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IN undertaking to place before the English public M. Henri 
Bergson 's great work, which since its publication in March 
1932 has gone through seventeen editions, the translators were 
confronted at the outset with great difficulties. An example, 
of the utmost importance, was the word "morale", which has 
a wider meaning in French than in English, conveying both 
morality and ethics. There are obvious disadvantages in 
attempting to use now the one now the other of these two 
terms, though this has in some cases been done. But we have 
in most cases kept to the word "morality", and therefore 
consider it advisable to inform our readers of the wide 
sense in which we use it. As Monsieur Bergson himself says 
more than once, "You may attribute what meaning you 
like to a word, provided you start by clearly defining that 

The path of all translation is strewn with stumbling-blocks. 
This is especially true of The Two Sources of Morality ahd 
Religion. Here the thought is the outcome of twenty-five 
years' reflection and research, cast with unfailing skill in the 
language in which it was conceived; the language becomes 
inseparable from the thought it expresses. That is why the 
reader who cares to compare the English with the French text 
will find a certain number of passages which might appear at 
first sight to have been altered from the original. A closer 
study will reveal that this is not the case and that in almost 
every instance an effort has been made to convey the meaning 
of the French sentence more accurately still than would have 
been possible by a word-for-word translation. Monsieur 
Bergson realized the difficulties with which the translators 
were confronted, and with the kindly courtesy which is 
characteristic of him helped them in their task. At his par- 
ticular request, and under his guidance, these passages have 
been re-written and even re-thought in English. Once recast 
in this way, they have been submitted to his final approval. 


The translators and the reader owe him a debt of gratitude 
for his generous and careful collaboration. 

The translators also wish particularly to thank Mr. W. Hors- 
fall Carter, who has helped them with his advice throughout 
the work of translation, has taken over from Dr. Cloudesley 
Brereton the work of final revision (owing to the latter's ill- 
health), and has undertaken the arduous and delicate task 
of re-reading the book as a whole, with a fresh mind. 
Owing to his remarkable command of his own language, 
together with a consummate knowledge of French, his assist- 
ance has been of the greatest value. 





Social order and natural order The individual in society 
Society in the individual Spontaneous obedience Resist- 
ance to resistances Obligation and life The closed society 
The call of the hero Propulsive force of emotion 
Emotion and creation Emotion and representation Libera- 
tion of the soul Forward movement Closed morality and 
open morality Self-respect Justice Of intellectualism in 
morality Moral education Training and the mystical. 


Of absurdity in the reasoning being The myth-making 
function Myth-making and life Significance of the "vital 
impetus'* Part played in society by myth-making General 
themes of practical myth-making Assurance against dis- 
organization Assurance against depression Assurance 
against the unforeseeable On chance The "primitive men- 
tality" in civilized man Partial personification of events On 
magic in general Magic and science- Magic and religion 
Deference paid to animals Totemism BelielT "in goHs 
Mythological fantasy The myth-making function and litera- 
ture On the existence ofjgxis General function of static 

DYNAMIC RELIGION . . . . . .178 

Two meanings of the word religion Why we use one word 
Greek mysticism Oriental mysticism The prophets of 
Israel Christian mysticism Mysticism and regeneration 
Philosophic value of mysticism Of the existence of God 
Nature of God Creation and love The problem of evil 
Survival Of experience and probability in metaphysics. 





Closed society and open society Persistance of the natural 
Characteristics of natural society Natural society and 
democracy Natural society and war The Industrial Age 
Evolution of tendencies The law of dichotomy Law of 
double frenzy Possible return to the simple life Me- 
chanics and mysticism. 



THE remembrance of forbidden fruit is the earliest thing in 
the memory of each of us, as it is in that of mankind. We 
should notice this, were not this recollection overlaid by 
others which we are more inclined to dwell upon. What a 
childhood we should have had if only we had been left to do 
as we pleased! We should have flitted from pleasure to pleasure. 
But all of a sudden an obstacle arose, neither visible nor 
tangible: a prohibition. Why did we obey? The question 
hardly occurred to us. We had formed the habit of deferring 
to our parents and teachers. All the same we knew very well 
that it was because they were our parents, because they were 
our teachers. Therefore, in our eyes, their authority came less 
from themselves than from their status in relation to us. 
They occupied a certain station; that was the source of true 
command which, had it issued from some other quarter, 
would not have possessed the same weight. In other words, 
parents and teachers seemed to act by proxy. We did not fully 
realize this, but behind our parents and our teachers we had 
an inkling of some enormous, or rather some shadowy, thing 
that exerted pressure on us through them. Later we would 
say it was society. And speculating upon it, we should com- 
pare it to an organism whose cells, united by imperceptible 
links, fall into their respective places in a highly developed 
hierarchy, and for the greatest good of the whole naturally 
submit to a discipline that may demand the sacrifice of the 
part. This, however, can only be a comparison, for an organ- 
ism subject to inexorable laws is one thing, and a society com- 
posed'of free wills another. But, once these wills are organized, 
they assume the guise of an organism; and in this more or less 
artificial organism habit plays the same role as necessity in 
the works of nature. From this first standpoint, social life 


appears to us a system of more or less deeply rooted habits, 
corresponding to the needs of the community. Some of them 
are habits of command, most of them are habits of obedience, 
whether we obey a person commanding by virtue of a mandate 
from society, or whether from society itself, vaguely per- 
ceived or felt, there emanates an impersonal imperative. 
Each of these habits of obedience exerts a pressure on our 
will. We can evade it, but then we are attracted towards it, 
drawn back to it, like a pendulum which has swung away 
from the vertical. A certain order of things has been upset, 
it must be restored. In a word, as with all habits, we feel a 
sense of obligation. 

But in this case the obligation is immeasurably stronger. 
When a certain magnitude is so much greater than another 
that the latter is negligible in comparison, mathematicians 
say that it belongs to another order. So it is with social 
obligation. The pressure of it, compared to that of other 
habits, is such that the difference in degree amounts to a 
difference in kind. It should be noted that all habits of this 
nature lend one another mutual support. Although we may 
riot speculate on their essence and on their origin, we feel 
that they are interrelated, being demanded of us by our im- 
mediate surroundings, or by the surroundings of those sur- 
roundings, and so on to the uttermost limit, which would be 
society. Each one corresponds, directly or indirectly, to a 
social necessity; and so they all hang together, they form a 
solid block. Many of them would be trivial obligations if they 
appeared singly. But they are an integral part of obligation in 
general, and this whole, which is what it is owing to the con- 
tributions of its parts, in its turn confers upon each one the 
undivided authority of the totality. Thus the sum-total comes 
to the aid of each of its parts, and the general sentence "do 
what duty bids' ' triumphs over the hesitations we might feel 
in the presence of a single duty. As a matter of fact, we do not 
explicitly think of a mass of partial duties added together 
and constituting a single total obligation. Perhaps there is 
really not an aggregation of parts. The strength which one 
obligation derives from all the others is rather to be com- 


pared to the breath of life drawn, complete and indivisible, 
by each of the cells from the depths of the organism of which 
it is an element. Society, present within each of its members, 
has claims which, whether great or small, each express the 
sum-total of its vitality. But let us again repeat that this is 
only a comparison. A human community is a collectivity of 
free beings. The obligations which it lays down, and which 
enable it to subsist, introduce into it a regularity which has 
merely some analogy to the inflexible order of the phenomena 
of life. 

And yet everything conspires to make us believe that this 
regularity is comparable with that of nature. I do not allude 
merely to the unanimity of mankind in praising certain acts 
and blaming others. I mean that, even in those cases where 
moral precepts implied in judgments of values are not ob- 
served, we contrive that they should appear so. Just as we 
do not notice disease when walking along the street, so we do 
not gauge the degree of possible immorality behind the ex- 
terior which humanity presents to the world. It would take a 
good deal of time to become a misanthrope if we confined 
ourselves to the observation of others. It is when we detect 
our own weaknesses that we come to pity or despise mankind. 
The human nature from which we then turn away is the 
human nature we have discovered in the depths of our own 
being. The evil is so well screened, the secret so universally 
kept, that in this case each individual is the dupe of all: how- 
ever severely we may profess to judge other men, at bottom 
we think them better than ourselves. On this happy illusion 
much of our social life is grounded. 

It is natural that society should do everything to encourage 
this idea. The laws which it promulgates and which maintain 
the social order resemble, moreover, in certain aspects, the 
laws of nature. I admit that the difference is a radical one in 
the eyes of the philosopher. To him the law which enunciates 
facts is one thing, the law which commands, another. It is 
possible to evade the latter; here we have obligation, not 
necessity. The former is, on the contrary, unescapable, for 
if any fact diverged from it we should be wrong in having 


assumed it to be a law; there would exist another one, the true 
one, formulated in such a way as to express everything we 
observe and to which the recalcitrant fact would then con- 
form like the rest. True enough; but to the majority of people 
the distinction is far from being so clear. A law, be it physical, 
social or moral every law is in their eyes a command. There 
is a certain order of nature which finds expression in laws: 
the facts are presumed to "obey" these laws so as to conform 
with that order. The scientist himself can hardly help believ- 
ing that the law "governs" facts and consequently is prior to 
them, like the Platonic Idea on which all things had to model 
themselves. The higher he rises in the scale of generaliza- 
tions the more he tends, willy-nilly, to endow the law with 
this imperative character; it requires a very real struggle 
against our own prepossessions to imagine the principles of 
mechanics otherwise than as inscribed from all eternity on 
the transcendent tables that modern science has apparently 
fetched down from another Sinai. But if physical law tends to 
assume in our imagination the form of a command when it 
attains to a certain degree of generality, in its turn an impera- 
tive which applies to everybody appears to us somewhat like 
a law of nature. Between them the two ideas, coming together 
in our minds, effect an exchange. The law borrows from the 
command its prerogative of compulsion; the command receives 
from the law its inevitability. Thus a breach of the social 
order assumes a anti-natural character; even when frequently 
repeated, it strikes us as an exception, being to society what a 
freak creation is to nature. 

And suppose we discern behind the social imperative a 
religious command? No matter the relation between the two 
terms: whether religion be interpreted in one way or another, 
whether it be social in essence or by accident, one thing is 
certain, that it has always played a social role. This part, 
indeed, is a complex one: it varies with time and place; 
but in societies such as our own the first effect of religion is 
to sustain and reinforce the claims of society. It may go much 
further. It goes at least thus far. Society institutes punish- 
ments which may strike the innocent and spare the guilty; 


its rewards are few and far between; it takes broad views and 
is easily satisfied; what human scales could weigh, as they 
should be weighed, rewards and punishments? But, just as 
the Platonic Ideas reveal to us, in its perfection and fulness, 
that reality which we only see in crude imitations, so religion 
admits us to a city whose most prominent features are here 
and there roughly typified by our institutions, our laws and 
our customs. Here below, order is merely approximate, being 
more or less artificially obtained by man; above it is perfect, 
and self-creative. Religion therefore, in our eyes, succeeds in 
filling in the gap, already narrowed by our habitual way of 
looking at things, between a command of society and a law 
of nature. 

We are thus being perpetually brought back to the same 
comparison, defective though it be in many ways, yet appro- 
priate enough to the point with which we are dealing. The 
members of a civic community hold together like the cells of 
an organism. Habit, served by intelligence and imagination, 
introduces among them a discipline resembling, in the inter- 
dependence it establishes between separate individuals, the 
unity of an organism of anastomosic cells. 

Everything, yet again, conspires to make social order an 
imitation of the order observed in nature. It is evident that 
each of us, thinking of himself alone, feels at liberty to follow 
his bent, his desire or his fancy, and not consider his fellow- 
men. But this inclination has no sooner taken shape than it 
comes up against a force composed of the accumulation of all 
social forces: unlike individual motives, each pulling its own 
way, this force would result in an order not without analogy 
to that of natural phenomena. The component cell of an 
organism, on becoming momentarily conscious, would barely 
have outlived the wish to emancipate itself when it would be 
recaptured by necessity. An individual forming part of a 
community may bend or even break a necessity of the same 
kind, >which to some extent he has helped to create, but to 
which, still more, he has to yield; the sense of this necessity, 
together with the consciousness of being able to evade it, is 
none the less what he calls an obligation. From this point of 


view, and taken in its most usual meaning, obligation is to 
necessity what habit is to nature. 

It does not come then exactly from without. Each of us 
belongs as much to society as to himself. While his conscious- 
ness, delving downwards, reveals to him, the deeper he goes, 
an ever more original personality, incommensurable with the 
others and indeed undefinable in words, on the surface of life 
we are in continuous contact with other men whom we 
resemble, and united to them by a discipline which creates 
between them and us a relation of interdependence. Has the 
self no other means of clinging to something solid than by 
taking up its position in that part of us which is socialised ? 
That would be so if there were no other way of escape from 
a life of impulse, caprice and regret. But in our innermost 
selves, if we know how to look for it, we may perhaps dis- 
cover another sort of equilibrium, still more desirable than 
the one on the surface. Certain aquatic plants as they rise 
to the surface are ceaselessly jostled by the current: their 
leaves, meeting above the water, interlace, thus imparting to 
them stability above. But still more stable are the roots, 
which, firmly planted in the earth, support them from below. 
However, we shall not dwell for the present on the effort to 
delve down to the depths of our being. If possible at all, it is 
exceptional: and it is on the surface, at the point where it 
inserts itself into the close-woven tissue of other exteriorised 
personalities, that our ego generally finds its point of attach- 
ment; its solidity lies in this solidarity. But, at the point where 
it is attached, it is itself socialized. Obligation, which we look 
upon as a bond between men, first binds us to ourselves. 

It would therefore be a mistake to reproach a purely social 
morality with neglecting individual duties. Even if we were 
only in theory under a state of obligation towards other men, 
we should be so in fact towards ourselves, since social solid- 
arity exists only in so far as a social ego is superadded, in 
each of us, to the individual self. To cultivate this social ego 
is the essence of our obligation to society. Were there not 
some part of it in us, it would have no hold on us; and we 
scarcely need seek it out, we are self-sufficient, if we find it 


present within us. Its presence is more or less marked in 
different men; but no one could cut himself off from it com- 
pletely. Nor would he wish to do so, for he is perfectly aware 
that the greater part of his strength comes from this source, 
and that he owes to the ever-recurring demands of social life 
that unbroken tension of energy, that steadiness of aim in 
effort, which ensures the greatest return for his activity. 
But he could not do so, even if he wished to, because his 
memory and his imagination live on what society has im- 
planted in them, because the soul of society is inherent in the 
language he speaks, and because even if there is no one 
present, even if he is merely thinking, he is still talking to 
himself. Vainly do we try to imagine an individual cut off from 
all social life. Even materially, Robinson Crusoe on his island 
remains in contact with other men, for the manufactured 
objects he saved from the wreck, and without which he could 
not get along, keep him within the bounds of civilization, and 
consequently within those of society. But a moral contact is 
still more necessary to him, for he would be soon discouraged 
if he had nothing else to cope with his incessant difficulties 
except an individual strength of which he knows the limita- 
tions. He draws energy from the society to which he remains 
attached in spirit; he may not perceive it, still it is there, 
watching him: if the individual ego maintains alive and pre- 
sent the social ego, it will effect, even in isolation, what it 
would with the encouragement and even the support of the 
whole of society. Those whom circumstances condemn for a 
time to solitude, and who cannot find within themselves the 
resources of a deep inner life, know the penalty of "giving 
way", that is to say of not stabilising the individual ego at the 
level prescribed by the social ego. They will therefore be care- 
ful to maintain the latter, so that it shall not relax for one 
moment its strictness towards the former. If necessary, they 
will seek for some material or artificial support for it. You 
remember Kipling's Forest Officer, alone in his bungalow 
in the heart of the Indian rukh? He dresses every evening for 
dinner, so as to preserve his self-respect in his isolation. 1 

1 Kipling, "In the Rukh", from Many Inventions. 


We shall not go so far as to say that this social ego is Adam 
Smith's "impartial spectator", or that it must necessarily be 
identified with moral conscience, or that we feel pleased or 
displeased with ourselves according as it is favourably or un- 
favourably affected. We shall discover deeper sources for our 
moral feelings. Language here groups under one name very 
different things: what is there in common between the remorse 
of a murderer and that racking, haunting pain, also a remorse, 
which we may feel at having wounded someone's pride or 
been unjust to a child? To betray the confidence of an inno- 
cent soul opening out to life is one of the most heinous 
offences for a certain type of conscience, which is apparently 
lacking in a sense of proportion, precisely because it does not 
borrow from society its standards, its gauges, its system of 
measurement. This type of conscience is not the one that is 
most often at work. At any rate it is more or less sensitive in 
different people. Generally the verdict of conscience is the 
verdict which would be given by the social self. 

And also, generally speaking, moral distress is a throwing- 
out of gear of the relations between the social and the in- 
dividual self. Analyse the feeling of remorse in the soul of a 
desperate criminal. You might mistake it at first for the dread 
of punishment, and indeed you find most minute precautions, 
perpetually supplemented and renewed, to conceal the crime 
and avoid being found out; at every moment comes the awful 
thought that some detail has been overlooked and that the 
authorities will get hold of the tell-tale clue. But look closer: 
what the fellow wants is not so much to evade punishment as 
to wipe out the past, to arrange things just as though the crime 
had never been committed at all. When nobody knows that a 
thing exists, it is almost as if it were non-existent. Thus it is 
the crime itself that the criminal wants to erase, by suppressing 
any knowledge of it that might come to the human ken. But 
his own knowledge persists, and note how it drives him more 
and more out of that society within which he hoped to remain 
by obliterating the traces of his crime. For the same esteem 
for the man he was is still shown to the man he is no longer; 
therefore society is not addressing him; it is speaking to some- 


one else. He, knowing what he is, feels more isolated among his 
fellow-men than he would on a desert island; for in his soli- 
tude he would carry with him, enveloping him and supporting 
him, the image of society; but now he is cut off from the 
image as well as the thing. He could reinstate himself in 
society by confessing his crime: he would then be treated 
according to his deserts, but society would then be speaking 
to his real self. He would resume his collaboration with other 
men. He would be punished by them, but, having made him- 
self one of them, he would be in a small degree the author of 
his own condemnation; and a part of himself, the best part, 
would thus escape the penalty. Such is the force which will 
drive a criminal to give himself up. Sometimes, without going 
so far, he will confess to a friend, or to any decent fellow. By 
thus putting himself right, if not in the eyes of all, at least in 
somebody's eyes, he re-attaches himself to society at a single 
point, by a thread: even if he does not reinstate himself in it, 
at least he is near it, close to it; he no longer remains alienated 
from it; in any case he is no longer in complete rupture with 
it, nor with that element of it which is part of himself. 

It takes this violent break to reveal clearly the nexus of the 
individual to society. In the ordinary way we conform to our 
obligations rather than think of them. If we had every time to 
evoke the idea, enunciate the formula, it would be much more 
tiring to do our duty. But habit is enough, and in most cases 
we have only to leave well alone in order to accord to society 
what it expects from us. Moreover, society has made matters 
very much easier for us by interpolating intermediaries 
between itself and us: we have a family; we follow a trade or a 
profession; we belong to our parish, to our district, to our 
county; and, in cases where the insertion of the group into 
society is complete, we may content ourselves, if need be, 
with fulfilling our obligations towards the group and so paying 
our debts to society. Society occupies the circumference; the 
individual is at the centre: from the centre to the circum- 
ference are arranged, like so many ever-widening concentric 
circles, the various groups to which the individual belongs. 
From the circumference to the centre, as the circles grow 


smaller, obligations are added to obligations, and the indi- 
vidual ends by finding himself confronted with all of them 
together. Thus obligation increases as it advances; but, if it 
is more complicated, it is less abstract, and the more easily 
accepted. When it has become fully concrete, it coincides 
with a tendency, so habitual that we find it natural, to play in 
society the part which our station assigns to us. So long as we 
yield to this tendency, we scarcely feel it. It only assumes a 
peremptory aspect, like all deep-seated habits, if we depart 
from it. 

It is society that draws up for the individual the pro- 
gramme of his daily routine. It is impossible to live a family 
life, follow a profession, attend to the thousand and one cares 
of the day, do one's shopping, go for a stroll, or even stay at 
home, without obeying rules and submitting to obligations. 
Every instant we have to choose, and we naturally decide on 
what is in keeping with the rule. We are hardly conscious of 
this; there is no effort. A road has been marked out by 
society; it lies open before us, and we follow it; it would take 
more initiative to cut across country. Duty, in this sense, is 
almost always done automatically; and obedience to duty, if 
we restrict ourselves to the most usual case, might be defined 
as a form of non-exertion, passive acquiescence. How comes 
it, then, that on the contrary this obedience appears as a state 
of strain, and duty itself as something harsh and unbending? 
Obviously because there occur cases where obedience implies 
an overcoming of self. These cases are exceptions; but we 
notice them because they are accompanied by acute con- 
sciousness, as happens with all forms of hesitation in fact 
consciousness is this hesitation itself; for an action which is 
started automatically passes almost unperceived. Thus, owing 
to the interdependence of our duties, and because the obliga- 
tion as a whole is immanent in each of its parts, all duties are 
tinged with the hue taken on exceptionally by one or the other 
of them. From the practical point of view this presents no 
inconvenience, there are even certain advantages in looking 
at things in this way. For, however naturally we do our 
duty, we may meet with resistance within ourselves; it is wise 


to expect it, and not take for granted that it is easy to remain 
a good husband, a decent citizen, a conscientious worker, in 
a word an honest fellow. Besides, there is a considerable 
amount of truth in this opinion; for if it is relatively easy to 
keep within the social order, yet we have had to enrol in it, 
and this enrolment demands an effort. The natural disobedi- 
ence of the child, the necessity of education, are proof of this. 
It is but just to credit the individual with the consent virtu- 
ally given to the totality of his obligation, even if he no longer 
needs to take counsel with himself on each one of them. The 
rider need only allow himself to be borne along; still he has 
had to get into the saddle. So it is with the individual in 
relation to society. In one sense it would be untrue, and in 
every sense it would be dangerous, to say that duty can be 
done automatically. Let us then set up as a practical maxim 
that obedience to duty means resistance to self. 

But a maxim is one thing, an explanation another. When, 
in order to define obligation, its essence and its origin, we lay 
down that obedience is primarily a struggle with self, a state 
of tension or contraction, we make a psychological error 
which has vitiated many theories of ethics. Thus artificial 
difficulties have arisen, problems which set philosophers at 
variance and which will be found to vanish when we analyse 
the terms in which they are expressed. Obligation is in no 
sense a unique fact, incommensurate with others, looming 
above them like a mysterious apparition. If a considerable 
number of philosophers, especially those who follow Kant, 
have taken this view, it is because they have confused the 
sense of obligation, a tranquil state akin to inclination, with 
the violent effort we now and again exert on ourselves to 
break down a possible obstacle to obligation. 

After an attack of rheumatism, we may feel some discom- 
fort and even pain, in moving our muscles and joints. It is the 
general sensation of a resistance set up by all our organs 
together. Little by little it decreases and ends by being lost in 
the consciousness we have of our movements when we are 
well. Now, we are at liberty to fancy that it is still there, in an 
incipient, or rather a subsiding, condition, that it is only on 


the look-out for a chance to become more acute; we must 
indeed expect attacks of rheumatism if we are rheumatic. 
Yet what should we say of a philosopher who saw in our 
habitual sensations, when moving our arms and legs, a mere 
diminution of pain, and who then defined our motory faculty 
as an effort to resist rheumatic discomfort? To begin with, he 
would thus be giving up the attempt to account for motory 
habits, since each of these implies a particular combination of 
movements, and can only be explained by that combination. 
The general faculty of walking, running, moving the body, is 
but an aggregation of these elementary habits, each of them 
finding its own explanation in the special movements it 
involves. But having only considered the faculty as a whole, 
and having then defined it as a force opposed to a resistance, 
it is natural enough to set up rheumatism beside it as an in- 
dependent entity. It would seem as though some such error 
had been made by many of those who have speculated on 
obligation. We have any number of particular obligations, 
each calling for a separate explanation. It is natural, or more 
strictly speaking, it is a matter of habit to obey them all. 
Suppose that exceptionally we deviate from one of them, 
there w T ould be resistance; if we resist this resistance, a state of 
tension or contraction is likely to result. It is this rigidity 
which we objectify when we attribute so stern an aspect to 

It is also what the philosophers have in mind, when they 
see fit to resolve obligation into rational elements. In order 
to resist resistance, to keep to the right paths, when desire, 
passion or interest tempt us aside, we must necessarily give 
ourselves reasons. Even if we have opposed the unlawful 
desire by another, the latter, conjured up by the will, could 
only arise at the call of an idea. In a word, an intelligent being 
generally exerts his influence on himself through the medium 
of intelligence. But from the fact that we get back to obligation 
by rational ways it does not follow that obligation was of a 
rational order. We shall dwell on this point later; we do not 
intend to discuss ethical theories for the present. Let us 
merely say that a tendency, natural or acquired, is one thing, 


another thing the necessarily rational method which a reason- 
able being will use to restore to it its force and to combat 
what is opposing it. In the latter case the tendency which has 
been obscured may reappear; and then everything doubtless 
happens as though we had succeeded by this method in re- 
establishing the tendency anew. In reality we have merely 
swept aside something that hampered or checked it. It comes 
to the same thing, I grant you, in practice: explain the fact in 
one way or another, the fact is there, we have achieved success. 
And in order to succeed it is perhaps better to imagine that 
things did happen in the former way. But to state that this is 
actually the case would be to vitiate the whole theory of 
obligation. Has not this been the case with most philosophers? 
Let there be no misunderstanding. Even if we confine our- 
selves to a certain aspect of morality, as we have done up to 
now, we shall find many different attitudes towards duty. 
They line the intervening space between the extremes of two 
attitudes, or rather two habits; that of moving so naturally 
along the ways laid down by society as barely to notice them, 
or on the contrary hesitating and deliberating on which way to 
take, how far to go, the distances out and back we shall have to 
cover if we try several paths one after another. In the second 
case new problems arise with more or less frequency; and 
even in those instances where our duty is fully mapped out, 
we make all sorts of distinctions in fulfilling it. But, in the first 
place, the former attitude is that of the immense majority of 
men; it is probably general in backward communities. And, 
after all, however much we may reason in each particular 
case, formulate the maxim, enunciate the principle, deduce 
the consequences: if desire and passion join in the discussion, 
if temptation is strong, if we are on the point of falling, if 
suddenly we recover ourselves, what was it that pulled us 
up? A force asserts itself which we have called the " totality 
of obligation": the concentrated extract, the quintessence of 
innumerable specific habits of obedience to the countless 
particular requirements of social life. This force is no one par- 
ticular thing and, if it could speak (whereas it prefers to act), 
it would say: "You must because you must". Hence the work 


done by intelligence in weighing reasons, comparing maxims, 
going back to first principles, was to introduce more logical 
consistency into a line of conduct subordinated by its very 
nature to the claims of society; but this social claim was the real 
root of obligation. Never, in our hours of temptation, should 
we sacrifice to the mere need for logical consistency our in- 
terest, our passion, our vanity. Because in a reasonable being 
reason does indeed intervene as a regulator to assure this 
consistency between obligatory rules or maxims, philosophy 
has been led to look upon it as a principle of obligation. We 
might as well believe that the fly-wheel drives the machinery. 
Besides, the demands of a society dovetail into one another. 
Even the individual whose decent behaviour is the least based 
on reasoning and, if I may put it so, the most conventional, in- 
troduces a rational order into his conduct by the mere fact of 
obeying rules which are logically connected together. I freely 
admit that such logic has been late in taking possession of 
society. Logical co-ordination is essentially economy. From a 
whole it first roughly extracts certain principles and then 
excludes everything which is not in accordance with them. 
Nature, by contrast, is lavish. The closer a community is to 
nature, the greater the proportion of unaccountable and incon- 
sistent rules, it lays down. We find in primitive races many 
prohibitions and prescriptions explicable at most by vague 
associations of ideas, by superstition, by automatism. Nor 
are they without their use, since the obedience of everyone to 
laws, even absurd ones, assures greater cohesion to the com- 
munity. But in that case the usefulness of the rule solely 
accrues, by a kind of reverse action, from the fact of our sub- 
mission to it. Prescriptions or prohibitions which are intrin- ' 
sically useful are those that are explicitly designed for the 
preservation or well-being of society. No doubt they have 
gradually detached themselves from the others and survived 
them. Social demands therefore become reciprocally co- 
ordinate and subordinate to principles. But no matter. "Logic 
permeates indeed present-day communities, and even the man 
who does not reason out his conduct will live reasonably if he 
conforms to these principles. 


But the essence of obligation is a different thing from a re- 
quirement of reason. This is all we have tried to suggest so far. 
Our description would, we think, correspond more and more 
io reality as one came to deal with less developed communities 
and more rudimentary stages of consciousness. It remains a 
bare outline so long as we confine ourselves to the normal 
conscience, such as is found to-day in the ordinary decent 
person. But precisely because we are in this case dealing with 
a strange complex of feelings, of ideas and tendencies all 
interpenetrating each other, we shall only avoid artificial 
analyses and arbitrary syntheses if we have at hand an outline 
which gives the essential. Such is the outline we have attempted 
to trace. Conceive obligation as weighing on the will like a 
habit, each obligation dragging behind it the accumulated 
mass of the others, and utilising thus for the pressure it is 
exerting the weight of the whole: here you have the totality of 
obligation for a simple, elementary, moral conscience. That 
is the essential: that is what obligation could, if necessary, 
be reduced to, even in those cases where it attains its highest 

This shows when and in what sense (how slightly Kantian!) 
obligation in its elementary state takes the form of a "categor- 
ical imperative". We should find it very difficult to discover 
examples of such an imperative in everyday life. A military 
order, which is a command that admits neither reason nor 
reply, does say in fact: "You must because you must". But, 
though you may give the soldier no reason, he will imagine 
one. If we want a pure case of the categorical imperative, we 
must construct one a priori or at least make an arbitrary 
abstraction of experience. So let us imagine an ant stirred by 
a gleam of reflexion and who thereupon judges she has been 
wrong to work unremittingly for others. Her inclination to 
laziness would indeed endure but a few moments, just as 
long as the ray of intelligence. In the last of these moments, 
when instinct regaining the mastery would drag her back by 
sheer force to her task, intelligence at the point of relapsing 
into instinct would say, as its parting word: "You must 
because you must". This "must because you must" would 


only be the momentary feeling of awareness of a tug which 
the ant experiences the tug which the string, momentarily 
relaxed, exerts as it drags her back. The same command would 
ring in the ear of a sleep-walker on the point of waking, or 
even actually beginning to wake, from the dream he is enact- 
ing: if he lapsed back at once into a hypnotic state, a categor- 
ical imperative would express in words, on behalf of the 
reflexion which had just been on the point of emerging and 
had instantly disappeared, the inevitableness of the relapse. 
In a word, an absolutely categorical imperative is instinctive 
or somnambulistic, enacted as such in a normal state, repre- 
sented as such if reflexion is roused long enough to take 
'form, not long enough to seek for reasons. But, then, is it not 
evident that, in a reasonable being, an imperative will tend 
to become categorical in proportion as the activity brought 
into play, although intelligent, will tend to become instinctive? 
But an activity which, starting as intelligent, progresses to- 
wards an imitation of instinct is exactly what we call, in man, 
a habit. And the most powerful habit, the habit whose 
strength is made up of the accumulated force of all the 
elementary social habits, is necessarily the one which best 
imitates instinct. Is it then surprising that, in the short 
moment which separates obligation merely experienced as a 
living force from obligation fully realized and justified by all 
sorts of reasons, obligation should indeed take the form of the 
categorical imperative: "you must because you must"? 

Let us consider two divergent lines of evolution with 
societies at the extremities of each. The type of society which 
will appear the more natural will obviously be the instinctive 
type; the link that unites the bees of a hive resembles far 
more the link which holds together the cells of an organism, 
co-ordinate and subordinate to one another. Let us suppose 
for an instant that nature has intended to produce at the 
extremity of the second line societies where a certain latitude 
was left to individual choice: she would have arranged that 
intelligence should achieve here results comparable, as regards 
their regularity, to those of instinct in the other; she would 
have had recourse to habit. Each of these habits, which may 


be called "moral", would be incidental. But the aggregate of 
them, I mean the habit of contracting these habits, being at 
the very basis of societies and $ necessary condition of their 
existence, would have a force comparable to that of instinct 
both in respect of intensity and regularity. This is exactly 
what we have called the "totality of obligation". This, be it 
said, will only apply to human societies at the moment of 
emerging from the hands of nature. It will apply to primitive 
and to elementary societies. But, however much human 
society may progress, grow complicated and spiritualized, the 
original design, expressing the purpose of nature, will remain. 
Now this is exactly what has happened. Without going 
deeply into a matter we have dealt with elsewhere, let us 
simply say that intelligence and instinct are forms of con- 
sciousness which must have interpenetrated each other in their 
rudimentary state and become dissociated as they grew. This 
development occurred on the two main lines of evolution of 
animal life, with the Arthropodes and the Vertebrates. At the 
end of the former we have the instinct of insects, more 
especially the Hymenopterae; at the end of the second, human 
intelligence. Instinct and intelligence have each as their essen- 
tial object the utilisation of implements; in the one case, 
invented tools, and therefore varied and unforeseen; in the 
other, organs supplied by nature and hence immutable. The 
implement is, moreover, designed for a certain type of work, 
and this work is all the more efficient the more it is specialized, 
the more it is divided up between diversely qualified workers 
who mutually supplement one another. Social life is thus 
immanent, like a vague ideal, in instinct as well as in intel- 
ligence: this ideal finds its most complete expression in the 
hive or the ant-hill on the one hand, in human societies on 
the other. Whether human or animal, a society is an organiza- 
tion; it implies a co-ordination and generally also a sub- 
ordination of elements; it therefore exhibits, whether merely 
embodied in life or, in addition, specifically formulated, a 
collection of rules and laws. But in a hive or an ant-hill the 
individual is riveted to his task by his structure, and the 
organization is relatively invariable, whereas the human com- 


munity is variable in form, open to every kind of progress. 
The result is that in the former each rule is laid down by 
nature, and is necessary: whereas in the latter only one thing 
is natural, the necessity of a rule. Thus the more, in human 
society, we delve down to the root of the various obligations 
to reach obligation in general, the more obligation will tend 
to become necessity, the nearer it will draw, in its peremptory 
aspect, to instinct. And yet we should make a great mistake 
if we tried to ascribe any particular obligation, whatever it 
might be, to instinct. What we must perpetually recall is 
that, no one obligation being instinctive, obligation as a whole 
would have been instinct if human societies were not, so to 
speak, ballasted with variability and intelligence. It is a virtual 
instinct, like that which lies behind the habit of speech. The 
morality of a human society may indeed be compared to its 
language. If ants exchange signs, which seems probable, those 
signs are provided by the very instinct that makes the 
ants communicate with one another. On the contrary, our 
languages are the product of custom. Nothing in the vocabu- 
lary, or even in the syntax, comes from nature. But speech is 
natural, and unvarying signs, natural in origin, which are 
presumably used in a community of insects, exhibit what our 
language would have been, if nature in bestowing on us the 
faculty of speech had not added that function which, since 
it makes and uses tools, is inventive and called intelligence. 
We must perpetually recur to what obligation would have been 
if human society had been instinctive instead of intelligent: 
this will not explain any particular obligation, we shall even 
give of obligation in general an idea which w6uld be false, if 
we went no further; and yet we must think of this instinctive 
society as the counterpart of intelligent society, if we are not 
to start without any clue in quest of the foundations of 

From this point of view obligation loses its specific char- 
acter. It ranks among the most general phenomena df life. 
When the elements which go to make up an organism submit 
to a rigid discipline, can we say that they feel themselves 
liable to obligation and that they are obeying a social instinct? 


Obviously not; but whereas such an organism is barely a 
community, the hive and the ant-hill are actual organisms, 
the elements of which are united by invisible ties, and the 
social instinct of an ant I mean the force by virtue of which 
the worker, for example, performs the task to which she is 
predestined by her structure cannot differ radically from 
the cause, whatever it be, by virtue of which every tissue, 
every cell of a living body, toils for the greatest good of the 
whole. Indeed it is, strictly speaking, no more a matter of 
obligation in the one case than in the other, but rather of 
necessity. It is just this necessity that we perceive, not actual 
but virtual, at the foundations of moral obligation, as through 
a more or less transparent veil. A human being feels an obliga- 
tion only if he is free, and each obligation, considered separ- 
ately, implies liberty. But it is necessary that there should be 
obligations; and the deeper we go, away from those particular 
obligations which are at the top, towards obligation in 
general, or, as we have said, towards obligation as a whole, 
which is at the bottom, the more obligation appears as the 
very form assumed by necessity in the realm of life, when it 
demands, for the accomplishment of certain ends, intelli- 
gence, choice, and therefore liberty. 

Here again it may be alleged that this applies to very simple 
human societies, that is to say primitive or rudimentary 
societies. Certainly, but, as we shall have occasion to point out 
later, civilized man differs, above all, from primitive man by 
the enormous mass of knowledge and habits which he has 
absorbed, since the first awakening of his consciousness, 
from the social surroundings in which they were stored up. 
What is natural is in great measure overlaid by what is 
acquired; but it endures, almost unchangeable, throughout 
the centuries; habits and knowledge by no means impregnate 
the organism to the extent of being transmitted by heredity, as 
used to be supposed. It is true that we could consider what is 
natural as negligible in our analysis of obligation, if it had been 
crushed out by the acquired habits which have accumulated 
over it in the course of centuries of civilization. But it re- 
mains in excellent condition, very much alive, in the most 


civilized society. To it we must revert, not to account for this 
or that social obligation, but to explain what we have called 
obligation as a whole. Our civilized communities, however 
different they may be from the society to which we were 
primarily destined by nature, exhibit indeed, with respect to 
that society, a fundamental resemblance. 

For they too are closed societies. They may be very exten- 
sive compared to the small agglomerations to which we were 
drawn by instinct and which the same instinct would prob- 
ably tend to revive to-day if all the material and spiritual 
acquisitions of civilization were to disappear from the social 
environment in which we find them stored; their essential 
characteristic is none the less to include at any moment a 
certain number of individuals, and exclude others. We have 
said above that underlying moral obligation there was a social 
demand. Of what society were we speaking? Was it of that 
open society represented by all mankind? We did not settle 
the matter, any more than one usually does when speaking of 
a man's duty to his fellows; one remains prudently vague; 
one refrains from making any assertion, but one would like to 
have it believed that "human society" is already an accom- 
plished fact. And it is well that we should like to have it 
believed, for if incontestably we have duties towards man 
as man (although these duties have an entirely different 
origin, as we shall see a little later) we should risk under- 
mining them, were we to make a radical distinction between 
them and our duties to our fellow-citizens. This is right 
enough so far as action is concerned. But a moral philosophy 
which does not emphasize this distinction misses the truth; 
its analyses will thereby be inevitably distorted. In fact, when 
we lay down that the duty of respecting the life and property 
of others is a fundamental demand of social life, what society 
do we mean? To find an answer we need only think what 
happens in time of war. Murder and pillage and perfidy, 
cheating and lying become not only lawful, they are actually 
praiseworthy. The warring nations can say, with Macbeth 's 
witches: "Fair is foul, and foul is fair". Would this be possible, 
would the transformation take place so easily, generally and 


instantaneously, if it were really a certain attitude of man to- 
wards man that society had been enjoining on us up till then? 
Oh, I know what society says (it has, I repeat, its reasons for 
saying so); but to know what it thinks and what it wants, we 
must not listen too much to what it says, we must look at 
what it does. It says that the duties it defines are indeed, in 
principle, duties towards humanity, but that under excep- 
tional circumstances, regrettably unavoidable, they are for 
the time being inapplicable. If society did not express itself 
thus, it would bar the road to progress for another morality, 
not derived from it, which it has every inducement to humour. 
On the other hand, it is consistent with our habits of mind to 
consider as abnormal anything relatively rare or exceptional, 
disease for instance. But disease is as normal as health, which, 
viewed from a certain standpoint, appears as a constant effort 
to prevent disease or to avoid it. In the same way, peace has 
always hitherto been a preparation for defence or even attack, 
at any rate for war. Our social duties aim at social cohesion; 
whether we will or no they compose for us an attitude which 
is that of discipline in the face of the enemy. This means that, 
however much society may endow man, whom it has trained 
to discipline, with all it has acquired during centuries of 
civilization, society still has need of that primitive instinct 
which it coats with so thick a varnish. In a word, the social 
instinct which we have detected at the basis of social obliga- 
tion always has in view instinct being relatively unchange- 
able a closed society, how r ever large. It is doubtless overlaid 
by another morality which for that very reason it supports 
and to which it lends something of its force, I mean of its 
imperative character. But it is not itself concerned with 
humanity. For between the nation, however big, and human- 
ity there lies the whole distance from the finite to the in- 
definite, from the closed to the open. We are fond of saying 
that the apprenticeship to civic virtue is served in the family, 
and that in the same way, from holding our country dear, we 
learn to love mankind. Our sympathies are supposed to 
broaden out in an unbroken progression, to expand while 
remaining identical, and to end by embracing all humanity. 


This is a priori reasoning, the result of a purely intellectualist 
conception of the soul. We observe that the three groups to 
which we can attach ourselves comprise an increasing number 
of people, and we conclude that a progressive expansion of 
feeling keeps pace with the increasing size of the object we 
love. And what encourages the illusion is that, by a fortunate 
coincidence, the first part of the argument chances to fit in 
with the facts; domestic virtues are indeed bound up with 
civic virtues, for the very simple reason that family and 
society, originally undifferentiated, have remained closely 
connected. But between the society in which we live and 
humanity in general there is, we repeat, the same contrast as 
between the closed and the open; the difference between the 
two objects is one of kind and not simply one of degree. How 
much greater it would be if, passing to the realm of feeling, 
we compared with each other the two sentiments, love of 
country and love of mankind! Who can help seeing that social 
cohesion is largely due to the necessity for a community to 
protect itself against others, and that it is primarily as against 
all other men that we love the men with whom we live? Such 
is the primitive instinct. It is still there, though fortunately 
hidden under the accretions of civilization; but even to-day 
we still love naturally and directly our parents and our fellow- 
countrymen, whereas love of mankind is indirect and ac- 
quired. We go straight to the former, to the latter we only 
come by roundabout ways; for it is only through God, in God, 
that religion bids man love mankind; and likewise it is through 
reason alone, that Reason in whose communion we are all 
partakers, that philosophers make us look at humanity in 
order to show us the pre-eminent dignity of the human being, 
the right of all to command respect. Neither in the one case 
nor the other do we come to humanity by degrees, through the 
stages of the family and the nation. We must, in a single 
bound, be carried far beyond it, and, without having made it 
our goal, reach it by outstripping it. Besides, whether we 
speak the language of religion or the language of philosophy, 
whether it be a question of love or respect, a different 
morality, another kind of obligation supervenes, above and 


beyond the social pressure. So far we have only dealt with 
the latter. The time has come to pass to the other. 

We have been searching for pure obligation. To find it we 
have had to reduce morality to its simplest expression. The 
advantage of this has been to indicate in what obligation 
consisted; the disadvantage, to narrow down morality enor- 
mously. Not indeed because that part of it which we have left 
on one side is not obligatory: is there such a thing as a duty 
which is not compulsory? But it is conceivable that, starting 
from a primitive basis of obligation pure and simple, such as 
we have just defined, this obligation should radiate, expand, 
and even come to be absorbed into something that trans- 
figures it. Let us now see what complete morality would be 
like. We shall use the same method and once more proceed, 
not downwards as up to now but upwards, to the extreme 

In all times there have arisen exceptional men, incarnat- 
ing this morality. Before the saints of Christianity, mankind 
had known the sages of Greece, the prophets of Israel, the 
Arahahts of Buddhism, and others besides. It is to them that 
men have always turned for that complete morality which we 
had best call absolute morality. And this very fact is at once 
characteristic and instructive; this very fact suggests to us the 
existence of a difference of kind and not merely one of degree 
between the morality with w r hich we have been dealing up to 
now and that we are about to study, between the maximum 
and the minimum, between the two extremes. Whereas the 
former is all the more unalloyed and perfect precisely in 
proportion as it is the more readily reduced to impersonal 
formulae, the second, in order to be fully itself, must be in- 
carnate in a privileged person who becomes an example. The 
generality of the one consists in the universal acceptance of a 
law, that of the other in a common imitation of a model. 

Why is it, then, that saints have their imitators, and why 
do the great moral leaders draw the masses after them? They 
ask nothing, and yet they receive. They have no need to ex- 
hort; their mere existence suffices. For such is precisely the 
nature of this other morality. Whereas natural obligation is a 


pressure or a propulsive force, complete and perfect morality 
has the effect of an appeal. 

Only those who have come into touch with a great moral 
personality have fully realized the nature of this appeal. But 
we all, at those momentous hours when our usual maxims of 
conduct strike us as inadequate, have wondered what such or 
such a one would have expected of us under the circum- 
stances. It might have been a relation or a friend whom we 
thus evoked in thought. But it might quite as well have been 
a man we had never met, whose life-story had merely been 
told us, and to whose judgment we in imagination submitted 
our conduct, fearful of his censure, proud of his approval. 
It might even be a personality brought up from the depths 
of the soul into the light of consciousness, stirring into life 
within us, which we felt might completely pervade us later, 
and to which we wished to attach ourselves for the time being, 
as the disciple to his teacher. As a matter of fact this per- 
sonality takes shape as soon as we adopt a model; the longing 
to resemble, which ideally generates the form, is an incipient 
resemblance; the word which we shall make our own is the 
word whose echo we have heard within ourselves. But the 
person matters little. Let us merely make the point that, 
whereas the first morality was the more potent the more dis- 
tinctly it broke up into impersonal obligation, on the contrary 
the latter morality, at first dispersed among general precepts 
to which our intelligence gave its allegiance, but which did 
not go so far as to set our will in motion, becomes more and 
more cogent in proportion as the multiplicity and generality 
of its maxims merge more completely into a man's unity and 

Whence does it derive its strength? What is the principle 
af action which here takes the place of the natural obligation, 
3r rather which ends by absorbing it? To discover this, let us 
first see what is tacitly demanded of us. The duties dealt 
with so far are those imposed on us by social life; they are 
binding in respect of the city more than in respect of humanity. 
You might say that the second morality if we do distinguish 
two differs from the first in that it is human instead of being 


merely social. And you would not be entirely wrong. For we 
have seen that it is not by widening the bounds of the city 
that you reach humanity; between a social morality and a 
human morality the difference is not one of degree but of 
kind. The former is the one of which we are generally thinking 
when we feel a natural obligation. Superimposed upon these 
clearly defined duties we like to imagine others, the lines of 
which are perhaps a little blurred. Loyalty, sacrifice of self, 
the spirit of renunciation, charity, such are the words we use 
when we think of these things. But have we, generally speaking, 
in mind at such times anything more than words? Probably 
not, and we fully realize this. It is sufficient, we say, that the 
formula is there; it will take on its full meaning, the idea 
which is to fill it out will become operative, when the occasion 
arises. It is true that for many people the occasion will never 
arise or the action will be put off till later. With certain 
people the will does make a feeble start, but so feeble that 
the slight shock they feel can in fact be attributed to no 
more than the expansion of social duty broadened and 
weakened into human duty. But only let these formulae be 
invested with substance, and that substance become ani- 
mate, lo and behold! a new life is proclaimed; we under- 
stand, we feel the advent of a new morality. Consequently, in 
speaking here of love of humanity we should doubtless be 
denoting this morality. And yet we should not be expressing 
the essence of it, for the love of humanity is not a self- 
sufficient force or one which has a direct efficacy. The teachers 
of the young know full well that you cannot prevail over 
egoism by recommending "altruism". It even happens that 
a generous nature, eager to sacrifice itself, experiences a 
sudden chill at the idea that it is working "for mankind". 
The object is too vast, the effect too diffuse. We may there- 
fore conjecture that if a love of humanity constitutes this 
morality, it constitutes it in much the same way as the inten- 
tion of reaching a certain point implies the necessity of cross- 
ing an intervening space. In one sense it is the same thing; in 
another sense it is something entirely different. If we think 
only of the interval and the various points, infinite in number, 


which we still have to pass one by one, we shall be discouraged 
from starting, like Zeno's arrow, and besides there would be 
no object, no inducement. But if we step across the interven- 
ing space, thinking only of the goal or looking even beyond 
it, we shall easily accomplish a simple act, and at the same 
time overcome the infinite multiplicity of which this simplicity 
is the equivalent. What then, in this case, is the goal, what 
the direction of the effort? What exactly, in a word, is required 
of us? 

Let us first define the moral attitude of the man we have 
been considering up to now. He is part and parcel of society; 
he and it are absorbed together in the same task of individual 
and social preservation. Both are self-centred. True, it is 
doubtful whether private interest invariably agrees with public 
interest: we know against what insurmountable difficulties 
utilitarian ethics has always come up when it laid down 
the principle that the individual could only seek his own 
good, while maintaining that this would lead him to desire the 
good of others. An intelligent being, pursuing his personal 
advantage, will often do something quite different from what 
the general interest demands. Yet, if utilitarian ethics persists 
in recurring in one form or another, this means that it is not 
untenable, and if it is tenable the reason is precisely because, 
beneath the intelligent activity, forced in fact to choose 
between its own interests and those of others, there lies a 
substratum of instinctive activity, originally implanted there 
by nature, where the individual and the social are well-nigh 
indistinguishable. The cell lives for itself and also for the 
organism, imparting to it vitality and borrowing vitality from 
it; it will sacrifice itself to the whole, if need be; and it would 
doubtless then say, if it were conscious, that it made this 
sacrifice in its own interest. Such would probably be the 
state of mind of an ant reflecting on her conduct. She would 
feel that her activity hinges on something intermediate 
between the good of the ant and the good of the ant-hill. 
Now it is just with this fundamental instinct that we have 
associated obligation as such: it implies at the beginning a 
state of things in which the individual and society are not 


distinguishable. This is what enables us to say that the attitude 
to which it corresponds is that of an individual and a com- 
munity concentrated on themselves. At once individual and 
social, the soul here moves round in a circle. It is closed. 

The other attitude is that of the open soul. What, in that 
case, is allowed in? Suppose we say that it embraces all 
humanity: we should not be going too far, we should hardly 
be going far enough, since its love may extend to animals, to 
plants, to all nature. And yet no one of these things which 
would thus fill it would suffice to define the attitude taken by 
the soul, for it could, strictly speaking, do without all of 
them. Its form is not dependent on its content. We have just 
filled it; we could as easily empty it again. "Charity" would 
persist in him who possesses "charity", though there be no 
other living creature on earth. 

Once again, it is not by a process of expansion of the self 
that we can pass from the first state to the second. A 
psychology which is too purely intellectualist, following the 
indications of speech, will doubtless define feelings by the 
things with which they are associated; love for one's family, 
love for one's country, love of mankind, it will see in these 
three inclinations one single feeling, growing ever larger, 
to embrace an increasing number of persons. The fact that 
these feelings are outwardly expressed by the same attitude 
or the same sort of motion, that all three incline us to some- 
thing, enables us to group them under the concept "love", and 
to express them by one and the same word; we then dis- 
tinguish them by naming three objects, each larger than the 
other, to which they are supposed to apply. This does in 
fact suffice to distinguish them. But does it describe them? 
Or analyse them? At a glance, consciousness perceives between 
the two first feelings and the third a difference of kind. The 
first imply a choice, therefore an exclusion; they may act as 
incentives to strife, they do not exclude hatred. The latter is 
all love. The former alight directly on an object which attracts 
them. The latter does not yield to the attraction of its object; 
it has not aimed at this object; it has shot beyond and only 
reached humanity by passing through humanity. Has it, 


strictly speaking, an object? We shall ask this question. But 
for the present we shall confine ourselves to noting that this 
psychic attitude, or rather psychic motion, is self-sufficient. 
Nevertheless there arises in regard to it a problem which 
stands ready solved in the case of the other. For the former 
was ordained by nature; we have just seen how and why we 
: eel bound to adopt it. But the latter is acquired; it calls for, 
las always called for, an effort. How comes it that the men 
vho have set the example have found other men to follow 
hem? And what is the power that is in this case the counter- 
>art of social pressure? We have no choice. Beyond instinct 
ind habit there is no direct action on the will except feeling. 
The impulse given by feeling can indeed closely resemble 
obligation. Analyse the passion of love, particularly in its 
early stages; is pleasure its aim? Could we not as well say 
it is pain? Perhaps a tragedy lies ahead, a whole life wrecked, 
wasted, ruined, we know it, we feel it^ no matter, we must 
because we must. Indeed the worst perfidy of a nascent passion 
is that it counterfeits duty. But we need not go as far as 
passion. Into the most peaceful emotion there may enter a 
certain demand for action, which differs from obligation as 
described above in that it will meet with no resistance, in 
that it imposes only what has already been acquiesced in, 
but which none the less resembles obligation in that it does 
impose something. Nowhere do we see this more clearly 
than in those cases where the demand ceases to have any 
practical consequence, thus leaving us the leisure to reflect 
upon it and analyse what we feel. This is what occurs in 
musical emotion, for example. We feel, while we listen, as 
though we could not desire anything else but what the music 
is suggesting to us, and that that is just as we should naturally 
and necessarily act did we not refrain from action to listen. 
\Let the music express joy or grief, pity or love, every moment 
we are what it expresses. Not only ourselves, but many others, 
nay, all the others, too. When music weeps, all humanity, 
all nature, weeps with it. In point of fact it does not introduce 
these feelings into us; it introduces us into them, as passers- 
by are forced into a street dance. Thus do pioneers in morality 


proceed. Life holds for them unsuspected tones of feeling 
like those of some new symphony, and they draw us after 
them into this music that we may express it in action. 

It is through excess of intellectualism that feeling is made 
to hinge on an object and that all emotion is held to be the 
reaction of our sensory faculties to an intellectual representa-* 
tion. Taking again the example of music, we all know that} 
it arouses in us well defined emotions, joy, sorrow, pity, love, 
that these emotions may be intense and that to us they are: 
complete, though not attached to anything in particular.^ 
Are you going to say that we are here in the realm of art 
and not among real things, that therefore we are playing at 
emotion, that our feeling is purely imaginative, and that, 
anyway, the musician could not produce this emotion in us, 
suggest it without causing it, if we had not already experienced 
it in real life, where it was caused by an object from which 
art had merely to detach it? That would be to forget that joy 
and sorrow, pity and love are words expressing generalities, 
words which we must call upon to express what music makes 
us feel, whereas each new musical work brings with it new 
feelings, which are created by that music, and within that 
music, are defined and delimited by the lines, unique of their 
kind, of the melody or symphony. They have therefore not 
been extracted from life by art; it is we who, in order to 
express them in words, are driven to compare the feeling 
created by the artist with the feeling most resembling it in 
life. But let us then take states of emotion caused in effect by 
certain things and, as it were, prefigured in them. Those 
ordained by nature are finite, that is to say limited in number. 
They are recognizable because they are destined to spur us 
on to acts answering to needs. The others, on the contrary, 
are real inventions, comparable to those of the musician, at 
the origin of which there has always been a man. Thus 
mountains may, since the beginning of time, have had the 
faculty of rousing in those who looked upon them certain 
feelings comparable with sensations, and which were indeed 
inseparable from mountains. But Rousseau created in con- 
nection with them a new and original emotion. This emotion 


has become current coin, Rousseau having put it into circula- 
tion. And even to-day it is Rousseau who makes us feel it, 
as much and more than the mountains. True, there are 
reasons why this emotion, sprung from the heart of Jean- 
Jacques, should fasten on to mountains rather than any other 
object; the elementary feelings, akin to sensations, which were 
directly aroused by mountains must have been able to har- 
monize with the new emotion. But Rousseau gathered them 
together, gave them their places, henceforth as mere har- 
monics in a sound for which he provided, by a true creation, 
the principal tone. It is the same with love of nature in 
general. Nature has ever aroused feelings which are almost 
sensations; people have always enjoyed the pleasant shade, 
the cool waters, etc., in fine all those things suggested in the 
word "amoenus" by which the Romans described the charm 
of the country. But a fresh emotion, surely the creation of 
some person or persons, has arisen and used these pre- 
existing notes as harmonics, and produced in this way some- 
thing to be compared with the fresh tones of a new instrument, 
what we call in our respective countries the sentiment of 
nature. The fundamental tone thus introduced might have 
been different, as is the case in the East, in Japan especially, 
the timbre would then have been different. Feelings akin to 
sensation, closely bound up with the objects which give rise 
to them, are indeed just as likely to attract a previously created 
emotion as they are to connect with an entirely new one. This is 
what happened with love. From time immemorial woman must 
have inspired man with an inclination distinct from desire, 
but in immediate contact, as though welded to it, and per- 
taining both to feeling and to sensation. But romantic love 
has a definite date: it sprang up during the Middle Ages 
on the day when some person or persons conceived the idea 
of absorbing love into a kind of supernatural feeling, into 
religious emotion as created by Christianity and launched by 
the new religion into the world. When critics reproach 
mysticism with expressing itself in the same terms as passion- 
ate love, they forget that it was love which began by 
plagiarizing mysticism, borrowing from it its fervour, its 


raptures, its ecstasies: in using the lahguage of a passion it 
f .had transfigured, mysticism has only resumed possession of 
its own. We may add that the nearer love is to adoration, the 
greater the disproportion between the emotion and the object, 
the deeper therefore the disappointment to which the lover 
, is exposed unless he decides that he will ever look at the 
object through the mist of the emotion and never touch it, 
that he will, in a word, treat it religiously. Note that the 
ancients had already spoken of the illusions of love, but these 
were errors akin to those of the senses, and they concerned 
the face of the beloved, her figure, her bearing, her character. 
Think of Lucretius' description: the illusion here applies 
only to the qualities of the loved one, and not, as with the 
modern illusion, to what we can expect of love. Between the 
old illusion and the illusion we have superadded to it there 
is the same difference as between the primitive feeling, 
emanating from the object itself, and the religious emotion 
summoned from without by which it has been pervaded and 
eventually submerged. The margin left for disappointment 
is now enormous, for it is the gap between the divine and 
the human. 

That a new emotion is the source of the great creations of 
art, of science and of civilization in general there seems to 
be no doubt. Not only because emotion is a stimulus, 
because it incites the intelligence to undertake ventures and 
the will to persevere with them. We must go much further. 
There are emotions which beget thought; and invention, 
though it belongs to the category of the intellect, may partake 
of sensibility in its substance. For we must agree upon the 
meaning of the words "emotion", "feeling" and "sensibility". 
An emotion is an affective stirring of the soul, but a surface 
agitation is one thing, an upheaval of the depths another. 
The effect is in the first case diffused, in the second it remains 
undivided. In the one it is an oscillation of the parts without 
any displacement of the whole; in the other the whole is 
driven forward. Let us, however, get away from metaphors. 
We must distinguish between two kinds of emotion, two 
varieties of feeling, two manifestations of sensibility which 


have this one feature in common, that they are emotional 
states distinct from sensation, and cannot be reduced, like 
the latter, to the psychical transposition of a physical stimulus. 
In the first case the emotion is the consequence of an idea, 
or of a mental picture; the "feeling" is indeed the result of an 
intellectual state which owes nothing to it, which is self- 
sufficient, and which, if it does experience a certain re-action 
from the feeling, loses more than it gains. It is the stirring of 
sensibility by a representation, as it were, dropped into it. 
But the other kind of emotion is not produced by a repre- 
sentation which it follows and from which it remains distinct. 
Rather is it, in relation to the intellectual states which are to 
supervene, a cause and not an effect; it. is pregnant with 
representations, not one of which is actually formed, but 
which it draws or might draw from its own substance by an 
organic development. The first is infra-intellectual; that is 
the one with which the psychologist is generally concerned, 
and it is this we have in mind when we contrast sensibility 
with intelligence, and when we make of emotions a vague 
reflection of the representation. But of the other we should 
be inclined to say that it is supra-intellectual, if the word did 
not immediately and exclusively evoke the idea of superiority 
of value: it is just as much a question of priority in time, and 
of the relation between that which generates and that which 
is generated. Indeed, the second kind of emotion can alone 
be productive of ideas. 

This is just what the critic overlooks when he qualifies 
as "feminine", with a touch of contempt, a psychology which 
accords so extensive and so handsome a place to sensibility. 
First of all he should be blamed for abiding by the current 
commonplaces about women, when it is so easy to use one's 
eyes. I do not intend, for the mere sake of correcting an 
inappropriate word, to enter upon a comparative study of the 
two sexes. Suffice it to say that woman is as intelligent as 
man, but that she is less capable of emotion, and that if there 
is any faculty or power of the soul which seems to attain less 
development in woman than in man, it is not intelligence, 
but sensibility. I mean of course sensibility in the depths, not 


agitation at the surface. 1 But no matter. Still more is the 
critic to be blamed, when he fancies that he would under- 
value man if he related to sensibility the highest faculties 
of the mind, for not seeing precisely where the difference lies 
between that intelligence which understands, discusses, 
accepts or rejects which in a word limits itself to criticism 
and the intelligence which invents. 

Creation signifies, above all, emotion, and that not in 
literature or art alone. We all know the concentration and 
effort implied in scientific discovery. Genius has been defined 
as "an infinite capacity for taking pains". True, we think of 
intelligence as something apart, and, too, as something equally 
apart a general faculty of attention which, when more or 
less developed, is supposed to produce a greater or less con- 
centration of intelligence. But how could this indeterminate 
attention, extraneous to intelligence, bring out of intelligence 
something which is not there? We cannot help feeling that 
psychology is once more the dupe of language when, having 
used the same word to denote all efforts of attention made in 
all possible cases, and having thus been deceived into assum- 
ing them to be all of the same quality, it only perceives 
between them differences of degree. The truth is that in each 
case attention takes on a distinctive colouring, as though 
individualized by the object to which it applies: this is why 
psychology has already a tendency to use the term "interest" 
as much as "attention", thus implicitly introducing sensibility, 
as being capable of more extensive variation according to 
particular cases. But then this diversity is not sufficiently 
insisted upon; a general faculty of being interested is posited, 

1 We need hardly say that there are many exceptions. Religious fervour, 
for example, can attain, in women, to undreamt-of depths. But nature has 
probably ordained, as a general rule, that woman should concentrate on 
her child and confine within somewhat narrow bounds the best of her 
sensibility. In this department she is indeed incomparable; here the 
emotion is supra-intellectual in that it becomes divination. How many 
things rise up in the vision of a mother as she gazes in wonder upon her 
little one? Illusion perhaps! This is not certain. Let us rather say that 
reality is big with possibilities, and that the mother sees in the child not 
only what he will become, but also what he would become, if he were not 
obliged, at every step in his life, to choose and therefore to exclude. 


which, while always the same faculty, once again affords 
variety only through a greater or less application to its object. 
So do not let us speak of interest in general. Let us rather 
say that the problem which has aroused interest is a repre- 
sentation duplicated by an emotion, and that the emotion, 
being at one and the same time curiosity, desire and the 
anticipated joy of solving a stated problem, is, like the 
representation, unique. It is the emotion which drives the 
intelligence forward in spite of obstacles. It is the emotion 
above all which vivifies, or rather vitalizes, the intellectual 
elements with which it is destined to unite, constantly col- 
lecting everything that can be w r orked in with them and 
finally compelling the enunciation of the problem to expand 
into its solution. And what about literature and art? A work 
of genius is in most cases the outcome of an emotion, unique 
of its kind, which seemed to baffle expression, and yet which 
had to express itself. But is not this so of all work, however 
imperfect, into which there enters some degree of creative- 
ness? Anyone engaged in writing has been in a position to 
feel the difference between an intelligence left to itself and 
that which burns with the fire of an original and unique 
emotion, born of the identification of the author with his 
subject, that is to say of intuition. In the first case the mind 
cold-hammers the materials, combining together ideas long 
since cast into words and which society supplies in a solid 
form. In the second, it would seem that the solid materials 
supplied by intelligence first melt and mix, then solidify 
again into fresh ideas now shaped by the creative mind itself. 
If these ideas find words already existing which can express 
them, for each of them this seems a piece of unexpected good 
luck; and, in truth, it has often been necessary to assist for- 
tune, and strain the meaning of a word, to mould it to the 
thought. In that event the effort is painful and the result 
problematical. But it is in such a case only that the mind 
feels itself, or believes itself, to be creative. It no longer 
starts from a multiplicity of ready-made elements to arrive 
at a composite unity made up of a new arrangement of the 
old. It has been transported at a bound to something which 


seems both one and unique, and which will contrive later to 
express itself, more or less satisfactorily, in concepts both 
multiple and common, previously provided by language. 

To sum up, alongside of the emotion which is a result 
of the representation and which is added to it, there is the 
emotion which precedes the image, which virtually contains 
it, and is to a certain extent its cause. A play may be scarcely 
a work of literature and yet it may rack our nerves and cause 
an emotion of the first kind, intense, no doubt, but common- 
place, culled from those we experience in the course of daily 
life, and in any case devoid of mental content. But the 
emotion excited within us by a great dramatic work is of quite 
a distinct character. Unique of its kind, it has sprung up in 
the soul of the poet and there alone, before stirring our own; 
from this emotion the work has sprung, to this emotion the 
author was continually harking back throughout the com- 
position of the work. It was no more than a creative exigency, 
but it was a specific one, now satisfied once the work is 
finished, which would not have been satisfied by some other 
work unless that other had possessed an inward and pro- 
found resemblance with the former, such as that which exists 
between two equally satisfactory renderings, in terms of ideas 
or images, of one and the same melody. 

Which amounts to saying that, in attributing to emotion a 
large share in the genesis of the moral disposition, we are 
not by any means enunciating a " moral philosophy of senti- 
ment ". For we are dealing with an emotion capable of 
crystallising into representations and even into an ethical 
doctrine. From this particular doctrine we could never have 
elicited that morality any more than from any other; no 
amount of speculation will create an obligation or anything 
like it: the theory may be all very fine, I shall always be able 
to say that I will not accept it; and even if I do accept it, 
I shall claim to be free and do as I please. But if the atmosphere 
of the emotion is there, if I have breathed it in, if it has entered 
my being, I shall act in accordance with it, uplifted by it; not 
from constraint or necessity, but by virtue of an inclination 
which I should not want to resist. And instead of explaining 


my act by emotion itself, I might in this case just as well 
deduce it from the theory built up by the transposition of 
that emotion into ideas. We here get a glimpse of the possible 
reply to a weighty question which we have just touched on 
incidentally and with which we shall be confronted later. 
People are fond of saying that if a religion brings us a new 
morality, it imposes that morality by means of the meta- 
physics which it disposes us to accept, by its ideas on God, 
the universe, the relation of the one to the other. To which 
the answer has been made that it is, on the contrary, by the 
superiority of its morality that a religion wins over souls 
and reveals to them a certain conception of things. But would 
intelligence recognize the superiority of the proposed morality, 
since it can only appreciate differences of value by comparing 
them with a rule or an ideal, and this ideal and this rule are 
perforce supplied by the morality which is already in occupa- 
tion? On the other hand, how could a new conception of the 
universal order of things be anything but yet another 
philosophy to set alongside of those we know? Even if our 
intelligence is won over, we shall never see in it anything 
but an explanation, theoretically preferable to the others. 
Even if it seems to enjoin on us, as more in harmony with 
itself, certain rules of conduct, there will be a wide gap 
between this assent of the intellect and a conversion of the 
will. But the truth is that the doctrine cannot, as a purely 
intellectual representation, ensure the adoption and, above all, 
the practice of the corresponding morality, any more than the 
particular morality, considered by intelligence as a system 6f 
rules of conduct, can render the doctrine intellectually prefer- 
able. Antecedent to the new morality, and also the new meta- 
physics, there is the^mption, which develops as an impetus 
in the realm of the will, and as an explicative representation 
in that of intelligence. Take, for example, the emotion 
introduced by Christianity under the name of charity: if it 
wins over souls, a certain behaviour ensues and a certain 
doctrine is disseminated. But neither has its metaphysics 
enforced the moral practice, nor the moral practice induced a 
disposition to its metaphysics. Metaphysics and morality 


express here the self-same thing, one in terms of intelligence, 
the other in terms of will; and the two expressions of the 
thing are accepted together, as soon as the thing is there to 
be expressed. 

That a substantial half of our morality includes duties' 
whose obligatory character is to be explained fundamentally 
by the pressure of society on the individual will be readily 
granted, because these duties are a matter of current practice, 
because they have a clear precise formula, and it is therefore 
easy for us, by grasping them where they are entirely visible, 
and then going down to the roots, to discover the social 
requirements from which they sprang. But that the rest of 
morality expresses a certain emotional state, that actually 
we yield not to a pressure but to an attraction, many people 
will hesitate to acknowledge. The reason is that here we can- 
not, generally speaking, get back to the original emotion in 
the depths of our hearts. There exist formulae which are 
the residue of this emotion, and which have settled in what 
we may call the social conscience according as, within that 
emotion, a new conception of life took form or rather a 
certain attitude towards life. Precisely because we find our- 
selves in the presence of the ashes of an extinct emotion, and 
because the driving power of that emotion came from the fire 
within it, the formulae which have remained would generally 
be incapable of rousing our will, if older formulae, expressing 
the fundamental requirements of social life, did not by con- 
tagious influence communicate to them something of their 
obligatory character. These two moralities, placed side by 
side, appear now to be only one, the former having lent to 
the latter something of its imperative character and having, 
on the other hand, received from it in exchange a connotation 
less strictly social, more broadly human. But let us stir the 
ashes, we shall find some of them still warm, and at length 
the sparks will kindle into flame; the fire may blaze up again; 
and, if it does, it will gradually spread. I mean that the maxims 
of the second morality do not work singly, like those of the 
first: as soon as one of them, ceasing to be abstract, becomes 
filled with significance and acquires the capacity to act, the 


others tend to do the same: at last they all fuse in the warm 
emotion which left them behind long ago, and in the men, 
now come to life again, who experienced it. Founders and 
reformers of religions, mystics and saints, obscure heroes of 
moral life whom we have met on our way and who are in 
our eyes the equals of the greatest, they are all there: inspired 
by their example, we follow them, as if we were joining an 
army of conquerors. They are indeed conquerors: they have 
broken down natural resistance and raised humanity to a new 
destiny. Thus, when we dispel appearances to get at reality, 
when we set aside the common form assumed, thanks to 
mutual exchanges, by the two moralities in conceptual 
thought and in speech, then, at the two extremes of the single 
morality we find pressure and aspiration: the former the more 
perfect as it becomes more impersonal, closer to those natural 
forces which we call habit or even instinct, the latter the more 
powerful according as it is more obviously aroused in us by 
definite persons, and the more it apparently triumphs over 
nature. True, if we went down to the roots of nature itself 
we might find that it is the same force manifesting itself 
directly, as it rotates on its own axis, in the human species 
once constituted, and subsequently acting indirectly, through 
the medium of privileged persons, in order to drive humanity 

But there is no need to resort to metaphysics to determine 
the relation between this pressure and this aspiration. Once 
again, there is some difficulty in comparing the two moralities 
' because they are no longer to be found in a pure state. The 
first has handed on to the second something of its compulsive 
force; the second has diffused over the other something of its 
perfume. We find ourselves in the presence of a series of 
steps up or down, according as we range through the dictates 
of morality from one extreme or from the other; as to the 
two extreme limits, they have chiefly a theoretical interest; 
it is not often that they are actually attained. Let us, neverthe- 
less, consider separately, in themselves, pressure and aspira- 
tion. Immanent in the former is the representation of a 
society which aims only at self-preservation; the circular 


movement in which it carries round with it individuals, as it 
revolves on the same spot, is a vague imitation, through the 
medium of habit, of the immobility of instinct. The feeling 
which would characterize the consciousness of these pure 
obligations, assuming they were all fulfilled, would be a 
state of individual and social well-being similar to that which 
Accompanies the normal working of life. It would resemble 
pleasure rather than joy. The morality of aspiration, on the 
contrary, implicitly contains the feeling of progress. The 
emotion of which we were speaking is the enthusiasm of 
a forward movement, enthusiasm by means of which this 
morality has won over a few and has then, through them, 
spread over the world. "Progress" and "advance", moreover, 
are in this case indistinguishable from the enthusiasm itself. 
^To become conscious of them it is not necessary that we 
[should picture a goal that we are trying to reach or a perfec- 
tion to which we are approximating. It is enough that the joy 
of enthusiasm involves something more than the pleasure of 
well-being; the pleasure not implying the joy, while the joy 
does imply and encompass the pleasure. We feel this to be 
so, and the certainty thus obtained, far from hinging on a 
metaphysical theory, is what will provide it with its firmest 

But antecedent to this metaphysical theory, and far nearer 
to what we have directly experienced, are the simpler repre- 
sentations, which in this case spring from the emotion, in pro- 
portion as we dwell on it. We were speaking of the founders 
and reformers of religion, the mystics and the saints. Let us 
hearken to their language; it merely expresses in representa- 
tions the emotions peculiar to a soul opening out, breaking 
with nature, which enclosed it both within itself and within 
the city. 

They begin by saying that what they experience is a feeling 
of liberation. Well-being, pleasures, riches, all those things 
that mean so much to the common run of men, leave them 
indifferent. In breaking away from them they feel relief, and 
then exhilaration. Not that nature was wrong in attaching us 
by strong ties to the life she had ordained for us. But we must 


go further, and the amenities which are real comforts at home 
would become hindrances, burdensome impedimenta, if we 
had to take them on our travels. That a soul thus equipped 
for action would be more drawn to sympathize with other 
souls, and even with the whole of nature, might surprise us, 
if the relative immobility of the soul, revolving in a circle in 
an enclosed society, was not due precisely to the fact that 
nature has split humanity into a variety of individuals by the 
very act which constituted the human species. Like all acts 
creative of a species, this was a halt on the road. By a resump- 
tion of the forward movement, the decision to break is broken. 
True, to obtain a complete effect, the privileged soul would 
have to carry the rest of humanity with it. But if a few follow, 
and if the others imagine they would do likewise on occasion, 
this already means a great deal; henceforth, with the begin- 
ning of accomplishment, there will be the hope that the circle 
may be broken in the end. In any case, we cannot repeat too 
often that it is not by preaching the love of our neighbour 
that we can obtain it. It is not by expanding >our narrower 
feelings that we can embrace humanity. However much our 
intelligence may convince itself that this is the line of advance, 
things behave differently. What is simple for our understand- 
ing is not necessarily so for our will. In cases where logic 
affirms that a certain road should be the shortest, experience 
intervenes, and finds that in that direction there is no road. 
The truth is that heroism may be the only way to love. Now, 
heroism cannot be preached, it has only to show itself, and 
its mere presence may stir others to action. For heroism itself 
is a return to movement, and emanates from an emotion 
infectious like all emotions akin to the creative act. Religion 
expresses this truth in its own way by saying that it is in God 
that we love all other men. And all great mystics declare that 
they have the impression of a current passing from their soul 
to God, and flowing back again from God to mankind. 

Let no one speak of material obstacles to a soul thus freed! 
It will not answer that we can get round the obstacle, or that 
we can break it; it will declare that there is no obstacle. We 
cannot even say of this moral conviction that it moves 


mountains, for it sees no mountains to move. So long as you 
argue about the obstacle, it will stay where it is; and so long 
as you look at it, you will divide it into parts which will have 
to be overcome one by one; there may be no limit to their 
number; perhaps you will never exhaust them. But you can 
do away with the whole, at a stroke, if you deny its existence. 
That is what the philosopher did who proved movement by 
walking: his act was the negation pure and simple of the 
effort, perpetually to be renewed, and therefore fruitless, 
which Zeno judged indispensable to cover, one by one, the 
stages of the intervening space. By going deeply into this new 
aspect of morality, we should find an impression of coinci- 
dence, real or imaginary, with the generative effort of life. If 
seen from outside, the activity of life lends itself, in each of 
its works, to an analysis which might be carried on indefinitely; 
there is no end to a description of the structure of an eye such 
as ours. But what we call a series of means employed is, in 
reality, but a number of obstacles overcome; the action of 
nature is simple, and the infinite complexity of the mechanism 
which it seems to have built up piece by piece to achieve the 
power of vision is but the endless network of opposing forces 
which have cancelled one another out to secure an uninter- 
rupted channel for the functioning of the faculty. It is similar 
to the simple act of an invisible hand plunged into iron filings, 
which, if we only took into account what we saw, would seem 
like an inexhaustible interplay of actions and reactions among 
the filings themselves in order to effect an equilibrium. If 
such is the contrast between the real working of life and the 
aspect it presents to the senses and the intelligence which 
analyse it, is it surprising that a soul which no more recognizes 
any material obstacle should feel itself, rightly or wrongly, at 
one with the principle of life? 

Whatever heterogeneity we may at first find between the 
effect and the cause, and though the distance is great from 
a rule of conduct to a power of nature, it has always 
been from the contact with the generative principle of the 
human species that a man has felt he drew the strength to 
love mankind. By this I mean, of course, a love which absorbs 



and kindles the whole soul. But a more lukewarm love, faint 
and fleeting, can only be a radiation of the former, if not a 
still paler and colder image of it, left behind in the mind or 
deposited in speech. Thus, morality comprises two different 
parts, one of which follows from the original structure of 
human society, while the other finds its explanation in the 
principle which explains this structure. In the former, obliga- 
tion stands for the pressure exerted by the elements of society 
on one another in order to maintain the shape of the whole; 
a pressure whose effect is prefigured in each of us by a system 
of habits which, so to speak, go to meet it: this mechanism, of 
which each separate part is a habit, but whose whole is com- 
parable to an instinct, has been prepared by nature. In the 
second, there is still obligation, if you will, but that obligation 
is the force of an aspiration or an impetus, of the very impetus 
which culminated in the human species, in social life, in a 
system of habits which bears a resemblance more or less to 
instinct: the primitive impetus here comes into play directly, 
and no longer through the medium of the mechanisms it had 
set up, and at which it had provisionally halted. In short, to 
sum up what has gone before, we should say that nature, 
setting down the human species along the line of evolution, 
intended it to be sociable, in the same way as it did the com- 
munities of ants and bees; but since intelligence was there, 
the maintenance of social life had to be entrusted to an all but 
intelligent mechanism: intelligent in that each piece could be 
remodelled by human intelligence, yet instinctive in that man 
could not, without ceasing to be a man, reject all the pieces 
together and cease to accept a mechanism of preservation. 
Instinct gave place temporarily to a system of habits, each 
one of which became contingent, their convergence towards 
the preservation of society being alone necessary, and this 
necessity bringing back instinct with it. The necessity of the 
whole, felt behind the contingency of the parts, is what we 
call moral obligation in general; it being understood that the 
parts are contingent in the eyes of society only; to the in-* 
dividual, into ivhom society inculcates its habits, the part is 
as necessary as the whoj^jfjfow the mechanism designed by 


nature was simple, like the societies originally constituted by 
her. Did she foresee the immense development and the end- 
less complexities of societies such as ours? Let us first agfee 
as to the meaning of this question. We do not assert that 
nature has, strictly speaking, designed or foreseen anything 
whatever. But we have the right to proceed like a biologist, 
who speaks of nature's intentions every time he assigns a 
function to an organ: he merely expresses thus the adequate- 
ness of the organ to the function. In spite of humanity having 
become civilized, in spite of the transformation of society, 
we maintain that the tendencies which are, as it were, organic 
in social life have remained what they were in the beginning. 
We can trace them back and study them. The result of this 
investigation is clear; it is for closed, simple societies that 
the moral structure, original and fundamental in man, is 
made. I grant that the organic tendencies do not stand out 
clearly to our consciousness. They constitute, nevertheless, 
the strongest element of obligation. However complex our 
morality has grown and though it has become coupled with 
tendencies which are not mere modifications of natural tend- 
encies, and whose trend is not in the direction of nature, it is 
to these natural tendencies that we come in the end, when 
we want to obtain a precipitate of the pure obligation con- 
tained in this fluid mass. Such then is the first half of 
morality. The other had no place in nature's plan. We mean 
that nature foresaw a certain expansion of social life through 
intelligence, but it was to be a limited expansion. She could 
not have intended that this should go on so far as to endanger 
the original structure. Numerous indeed are the instances 
where man has thus outwitted nature, so knowing and wise, 
yet so simple-minded. Nature surely intended that men should 
beget men endlessly, according to the rule followed by all 
other living creatures; she took the most minute precautions 
to ensure the preservation of the species by the multiplication 
of individuals; hence she had not foreseen, when bestowing 
on us intelligence, that intelligence would at once find a 
way of divorcing the sexual act from its consequences, and 
that man might refrain from reaping without forgoing the 


pleasure of sowing. It is in quite another sense that man out- 
wits nature when he extends social solidarity into the brother- 
hood of man; but he is deceiving her too, in another way, for 
those societies whpse design was prefigured in the original 
structure of the human soul, and of which we can still per- 
ceive the plan in the innate and fundamental tendencies of 
modern man, required that the group be closely united, but 
that between group and group there should be virtual 
hostility; we were always to be prepared for attack or defence. 
Not, of course, that nature designed war for war's sake. 
Those leaders of humanity drawing men after them, who 
have broken down the gates of the city, seem indeed to have 
thereby found their place again in the direction of the vital 
impetus. But this impetus inherent in life is, like life, finite. 
Its path is strewn with obstacles, and the species which have 
appeared, one after the other, are so many combinations of 
this force with opposing forces: the former urging us for- 
ward, the others making us turn in a circle. Man, fresh from 
the hands of nature, was a being both intelligent and social, 
his sociability being devised to find its scope in small com- 
munities, his intelligence being designed to further individual 
and group life. But intelligence, expanding through its own 
efforts, has developed unexpectedly. It has freed men from 
restrictions to which they were condemned by the limitations 
of their nature. This being so, it was not impossible that some 
of them, specially gifted, should reopen that which was closed 
and do, at least for themselves, what nature could not possibly 
have done for mankind. Their example has ended in leading 
others forward, in imagination at least. There is a genius of 
the will as there is a genius of the mind, and genius defies all 
anticipation. Through those geniuses of the will, the impetus 
of life, traversing matter, wrests from it, for the future of the 
species, promises such as were out of the question when the 
species was being constituted. Hence in passing from social 
solidarity to the brotherhood of man, we break with one par- 
ticular nature, but not with all nature. It might be said, by 
slightly distorting the terms of Spinoza, that it is to get back 
to natura naturans that we break away from natura naturata. 


Hence, between the first morality and the second, lies the 
whole distance between repose and movement. The first is 
supposed to be immutable. If it changes, it immediately 
forgets that it has changed, or it acknowledges no change. 
The shape it assumes at any given time claims to be the final 
shape. But the second is a forward thrust, a demand for move- 
ment; it is the very essence of mobility. Thus would it prove, 
thus alone, indeed, would it be able at first to define, its 
superiority. Postulate the first, you cannot bring the second 
out of it, any more than you can from one or several posi- 
tions of a moveable body derive motion. But, on the con- 
trary, movement includes immobility, each position traversed 
by the moving object being conceived and even perceived as 
a virtual stop. But a detailed demonstration is unnecessary: 
the superiority is experienced before ever it is represented, 
and furthermore could not be demonstrated afterwards if it 
had not first been felt. There is a difference of vital tone. 
Those who regularly put into practice the morality of the 
city know this feeling of well-being, common to the in- 
dividual and to society, which is the outward sign of the 
interplay of material resistances neutralizing each other. But 
the soul that is opening, and before whose eyes material 
objects vanish, is lost in sheer joy. Pleasure and well-being 
are something, joy is more. For it is not contained in these, 
whereas they are virtually contained in joy. They mean, 
indeed, a halt or a marking time, while joy is a step forward. 

That is why the first morality is comparatively easy to for- 
mulate, but not the second. For our intelligence and our 
language deal in fact with things; they are less at home in 
representing transitions or progress. The morality of the 
Gospels is essentially that of the open soul: are we not justified 
in pointing out that it borders upon paradox, and even upon 
contradiction, in its more definite admonitions? If riches are 
an evil, should we not be injuring the poor in giving them 
what we possess? If he who has been smitten on the one cheek 
is to offer the other also, what becomes of justice, without 
which, after all, there can be no "charity"? But the paradox 
disappears, the contradiction vanishes, if we consider the 


intent of these maxims, which is to create a certain dis- 
position of the soul. It is not for the sake of the poor, but for 
his own sake, that the rich man should give up his riches: 
blessed are the poor "in spirit"! The beauty lies, not in being 
deprived, not even in depriving oneself, but in not feeling 
the deprivation. The act by which the soul opens out 
broadens and raises to pure spirituality a morality enclosed 
and materialized in ready-made rules: the latter then be- 
comes, in comparison with the other, something like a snap- 
shot view of movement. Such is the inner meaning of the 
antitheses that occur one after the other in the Sermon on 
the Mount: "Ye have heard that it was said ... I say unto 
you. . ." On the one hand the closed, on the other the open. 
Current morality is not abolished; but it appears like a virtual 
stop in the course of actual progression. The old method is 
not given up; but it is fitted into a more general method, as 
is the case when the dynamic reabsorbs the static, the latter 
then becoming a mere particular instance of the former. We 
should need then, strictly speaking, a means of expressing 
directly the movement and the tendency; but if we still want 
and we cannot avoid it to translate them into the language 
of the static and the motionless, we shall be confronted with 
formulae that border on contradiction. So we might compare 
what is impracticable in certain precepts of the Gospels to 
what was illogical in the first explanations of the differential 
calculus. Indeed, between the morality of the ancients and 
Christianity we should find much the same relation as that 
between the mathematics of antiquity and our own. 

The geometry of the ancients may have provided particular 
solutions which were, so to say, an anticipated application 
of our general methods; but it never brought out these 
methods; the impetus was not there which would have 
made them spring from the static to the dynamic. But at 
any rate it carried as far as possible the imitation of the 
dynamic by the static. Now, we have just the same impression 
when we compare, for example, the doctrine of the Stoics 
with Christian morality. The Stoics proclaimed themselves 
citizens of the world, and added that all men were brothers, 


having come from the same God. The words were almost the 
same; but they did not find the same echo, because they were 
not spoken with the same accent. The Stoics provided some 
very fine examples. If they did not succeed in drawing 
humanity after them, it is because Stoicism is essentially a 
philosophy. The philosopher who is so enamoured of this 
noble doctrine as to become wrapped up in it doubtless 
vitalizes it by translating it into practice; just so did Pyg- 
malion's love breathe life into the statue once it was carven. 
But it is a far cry from this emotion to the enthusiasm which 
spreads from soul to soul, unceasingly, like a conflagration. 
Such an emotion may indeed develop into ideas which make 
up a doctrine, or even several different doctrines having no 
other resemblance between them than a kinship of the spirit; 
but it precedes the idea instead of following it. To find some- 
thing of the kind in classical antiquity, we must not go to the 
Stoics, but rather to the man who inspired all the great 
philosophers of Greece without contributing any system, 
without having written anything, Socrates. Socrates indeed 
exalts the exercise of reason, and particularly the logical 
function of the mind, above everything else. The irony he 
parades is meant to dispose of opinions which have not under- 
gone the test of reflection, to put them to shame, so to speak, 
by setting them in contradiction with themselves. Dialogue, 
as he understands it, has given birth to the Platonic dialectics 
and consequently to the philosophical method, essentially 
rational, which we still practice. The object of such a dialogue 
is to arrive at concepts that may be circumscribed by defini- 
tions; these concepts will become the Platonic Ideas; and the 
theory of Ideas, in its turn, will serve as a model for the 
systems, also essentially rational, of traditional metaphysics. 
Socrates goes further still; virtue itself he holds to be a science, 
he identifies the practice of good with our knowledge of it; 
he thus paves the way for the doctrine which will absorb all 
moral life in the rational function of thought. Reason has 
never been set so high. At least that is what strikes us at first. 
But let us look closer. Socrates teaches because the oracle of 
Delphi has spoken. He has received a mission. He is poor, and 


poor he must remain. He must mix with the common folk, 
he must become one of them, his speech must get back to 
their speech. He will write nothing, so that his thought shall 
be communicated, a living thing, to minds who shall convey 
it to other minds. He is indifferent to cold and hunger, though 
in no way an ascetic, only that he is delivered from material 
needs, and emancipated from his body. A "daemon" accom- 
panies him, which makes its voice heard when a warning is 
necessary. He so thoroughly believes in this "daemonic 
voice" that he dies rather than not follow it; if he refuses to 
defend himself before the popular tribunal, if he goes to meet 
his condemnation, it is because the "daemon" has said 
nothing to dissuade him. In a word, his mission is of a religi- 
ous and mystic order, in the present-day meaning of the 
words; his teaching, so perfectly rational, hinges on some- 
thing that seems to transcend pure reason. But do we not 
detect this in his teaching itself? If the inspired, or at all 
events lyrical sayings, which occur throughout the dialogues 
of Plato, were not those of Socrates, but those of Plato 
himself, if the master's language had always been such 
as Xenophon attributes to him, could we understand the 
enthusiasm which fired his disciples, and which has come 
down the ages? Stoics, Epicureans, Cynics, all the Greek 
moralists spring from Socrates not only, as has always been 
said, because they develop the teaching of the Master in its 
various directions, but also, and, above all, because they 
borrow from him the attitude which is so little in keeping 
with the Greek spirit and which he created, the attitude of 
the Sage. Whenever the philosopher, closeted with his wis- 
dom, stands apart from the common rule of mankind be 
it to teach them, to serve as a model, or simply to go about 
his work of perfecting his inner self Socrates is there, Soc- 
rates alive, working through the incomparable prestige of his 
person. Let us go further. It has been said that he brought 
philosophy down from heaven to earth. But could we under- 
stand his life, and above all his death, if the conception of the 
soul which Plato attributes to him in the Phaedo had not been 
his? More generally speaking, do the myths we find in the 


dialogues of Plato, touching the soul, its origin, its entrance 
into the body, do anything more than set down in Platonic 
terms a creative emotion, the emotion present in the moral 
teaching of Socrates? The myths, and the Socratic conception 
of the soul to which they stand in the same relationship as 
the explanatory programme to a symphony, have been pre- 
served along with the Platonic dialectics. They pursue their 
subterranean way through Greek metaphysics, and rise to 
the open air again with the Alexandrine philosophers, with 
Ammonius perhaps, in any case with Plotinus, who claims to 
be the successor of Socrates. They have provided the Soc- 
ratic soul with a body of doctrine similar to that into which 
was to be breathed the spirit of the Gospels. The two meta- 
physics, in spite, perhaps because, of their resemblance, gave 
battle to each other, before the one absorbed the best that 
was in the other; for a while the world may well have won- 
dered whether it was to become Christian or Neo-Platonic. 
It was Socrates against Jesus. To confine ourselves to 
Socrates, the question is what would this very practical 
genius have done in another society and in other circum- 
stances, if he had not been, above all, struck by the danger of 
the moral empiricism of his time, and the mental anarchy of 
Athenian democracy; if he had not had to deal with the most 
crying need first, by establishing the rights of reason; if he 
had not therefore thrust intuition and inspiration into the 
background, and if the Greek he was had not mastered in him 
the Oriental who sought to come into being? We have made 
the distinction between the closed and the open: would 
anyone place Socrates among the closed souls? There was 
irony running through Socratic teaching, and outbursts of 
lyricism were probably rare; but in the measure in which 
these outbursts cleared the road for a new spirit, they have 
been decisive for the future of humanity. 

Between the closed soul and the open soul there is the soul 
in process of opening. Between the immobility of a man seated 
and the motion of the same man running there is the act of 
getting up, the attitude he assumes when he rises. In a word, 
between the static and the dynamic there is to be observed, in 


morality too, a transition stage. This intermediate state would 
pass unnoticed if, when at rest, we could develop the neces- 
sary impetus to spring straight into action. But it attracts our 
attention when we stop short the usual sign of insufficient 
impetus. Let us put the same thing in a different way. We 
have seen that the purely static morality might be called 
infra-intellectual, and the purely dynamic, supra-intellectual. 
Nature intended the one, and the other is a contribution of 
man's genius. The former is characteristic of a whole group 
of habits which are, in man, the counterpart of certain 
instincts in animals; it is something less than intelligence. The 
latter is inspiration, intuition, emotion, susceptible of analysis 
into ideas which furnish intellectual notations of it and 
branch out into infinite detail; thus, like a unity which en- 
compasses and transcends a plurality incapable of ever 
equalling it, it contains any amount of intellectuality; it is 
more than intelligence. Between the two lies intelligence 
itself. It is at this point that the human soul would have 
settled down, had it sprung forward from the one without 
reaching the other. It would have dominated the morality of 
the closed soul; it would not have attained to, or rather it 
would not have created, that of the open soul. Its attitude, the 
result of getting up, would have lifted it to the plane of in- 
tellectuality. Compared with the position it had just left 
described negatively such a soul would be manifesting in- 
difference or insensibility, it would be in the "ataraxy" or the 
"apathy" of the Epicureans and the Stoics. Considered in 
what it positively is, if its detachment from the old sought to 
be an attachment to something new, its life would be con- 
templation; it would conform to the Platonic and the Aris- 
totelian ideal. From whatever angle we look at it, its attitude 
would be upright, noble, truly worthy of admiration and re- 
served for the chosen few. Philosophies which start from very 
different principles may find in it a common goal. The reason 
is that there is only one road leading from action confined in 
a circle to action developing in the freedom of space, from 
repetition to creation, from the infra-intellectual to the supra- 
intellectual. Any one halting between the two is inevitably in 


the zone of pure contemplation, and in any case, no longer 
holding to the one but without having yet reached the other, 
naturally practises that half-virtue, detachment. 

We are speaking of pure intelligence, withdrawing into 
itself and judging that the object of life is what the ancients 
called "science" or contemplation. We are speaking, in a word, 
of what mainly characterizes the morality of the Greek 
Philosophers. But it would no longer be a matter of Greek 
or Oriental philosophy, we should be dealing with the 
morality of everybody if we considered intelligence as a mere 
elaboration or co-ordinating agent of the material, some of it 
infra-intellectual and some of it supra-intellectual, with 
which we have been dealing in this chapter. In order to 
define the very essence of duty, we have in fact distinguished 
the two forces that act upon us, impulsion on the one hand, 
and attraction on the other. This had to be done, and it is 
because philosophy had left it undone, confining itself to 
the intellectuality which to-day covers both, that it has 
scarcely succeeded, so it would seem, in explaining how a 
moral motive can have a hold upon the souls of men. But our 
description was thereby condemned, as we hinted, to remain 
a mere outline. That which is aspiration tends to materialize 
by assuming the form of strict obligation. That which is strict 
obligation tends to expand and to broaden out by absorbing 
aspiration. Pressure and aspiration agree to meet for this 
purpose in that region of the mind where concepts are 
formed. The result is mental pictures, many of them of a 
compound nature, being a blend of that which is a cause of 
pressure and that which is an object of aspiration. But the 
result is also that we lose sight of pure pressure and pure 
aspiration actually at work on our wills; we see only the con- 
cept into which the two distinct objects have amalgamated, 
to which pressure and aspiration were respectively attached. 
The force acting upon us is taken to be this concept: a fallacy 
which accounts for the failure of strictly intellectualist systems 
of morality, in other words, the majority of the philosophical 
theories of duty. Not, of course, that an idea pure and simple 
is without influence on our will. But this influence would 


only operate effectively if it could remain in isolation. It has 
difficulty in resisting hostile influences, or, if it does triumph 
over them, it is because of the reappearance, in their individ- 
uality and their independence, exerting their full strength, 
of the pressure and the aspiration which had each renounced 
its own right of action by being represented together in 
one idea. 

We should have to open a very long parenthesis indeed if 
we had to give their due share to the two forces, the one social, 
the other supra-social, one of impulse, the other of attraction, 
which impart to each moral motive its driving force. An 
honest man will say, for example, that he acts from self- 
respect, from a feeling of the dignity of man. Obviously he 
would not express himself thus, if he did not begin by split- 
ting himself into two selves, the personality he would be if 
he simply let himself drift, and the one to which his will 
uplifts him; the ego that respects is not the same as the ego 
respected. What, then, is the latter? Wherein lies its dignity? 
Whence comes the respect it inspires? Let us leave aside the 
task of analysing this respect, in which we should find above 
all an impulse of self-effacement, the attitude of the apprentice 
towards the master, or rather, to use the language of Aristotle, 
of the accident in the presence of the essence. There would 
remain to be defined the higher ego to which the average 
personality defers. There is no doubt that it is in the first 
place the "social ego" within each of us, on which we have 
already touched. If we posit, simply for the sake of theoretical 
clearness, a "primitive" mentality, we shall see in it self- 
respect coinciding with the feeling of so firm a solidarity 
between the individual and the group that the group remains 
present in the isolated individual, keeps an eye on him, 
encourages or threatens him, demands, in a word, to be 
consulted and obeyed; behind society itself there are super- 
natural powers on which the group depends, and which make 
the community responsible for the acts of the individual; the 
pressure of the social ego is exerted with all these accumulated 
forces. The individual, moreover, does not obey merely from 
a habit of discipline or from fear of punishment; the group 


to which he belongs must, of course, exalt itself above the 
others, if only to rouse his courage in battle, and the con- 
sciousness of this superiority of strength secures for him 
greater strength, together with all the satisfactions that pride 
can give. If you want to make sure of this, take a state of mind 
already more fully "evolved". Think of all the pride, also of 
all the moral energy which went to make up the civis Romanus 
sum: self-respect, in the Roman citizen, must have been 
tantamount to what we call nationalism to-day. But we need 
not turn to history or pre-history to see self-respect coinciding 
with a group-pride. We need only observe what goes on 
under our very eyes in the small sooifeties which form \Wthin 
the big one, when men are drawn together by a distinguishing 
badge which emphasizes a real or apparent superiority, 
separating them from the common herd. To the self-respect 
which every man, as a man, professes is then coupled an 
additional respect, that of the ego which is no more than man 
for an ego that stands out among men. All the members of 
the group behave as a group, and thus a common code of 
behaviour comes to be observed, a feeling of honour springs 
up which is identical with esprit de corps. These are the first 
components of self-respect. Looked at from this angle, a 
point of view which we to-day can only isolate by an effort 
of abstraction, it "binds" us by the prestige of the social 
pressure it brings with it. Now indeed the impulsion would 
obviously become attraction, if self-respect were the respect 
for a person admired and venerated, whose image we bore 
in our hearts and with whom we would aspire to become 
identified, as the copy to an original. In reality it is not so, 
for even if the word merely evokes the idea of an attitude of 
self towards self, respect is, none the less, at the end of its 
evolution as at the beginning, a social feeling. But the great 
moral figures that have made their mark on history join hands 
across the centuries, above our human cities; they unite into 
a divine city which they bid us enter. We may not hear their 
voices distinctly, the call has none the less gone forth, and 
something answers from the depth of our soul; from the real 
society in which we live we betake ourselves in thought to 


this ideal society; to this ideal society we bow down when we 
reverence the dignity of man within us, when we declare 
that we act from self-respect. It is true that the influence 
exerted on us by definite persons tends to become impersonal. 
And the impersonal character is still more stressed when a 
philosopher explains to us that it is reason, present in each 
of us, which constitutes the dignity of man. But here we 
must take care to know what we mean. That reason is the 
distinguishing mark of man no one will deny. That it is a 
thing of superior value, in the sense in which a fine work of 
art is indeed valuable, will also be granted. But we must 
explain how it is that its orders are absolute and why they 
are obeyed. Reason can only put forward reasons, which we 
are apparently always at liberty to counter with other reasons. 
Let us not then merely assert that reason, present in each of 
us, compels our respect and commands our obedience by 
virtue of its paramount value. We must add that there are, 
behind reason, the men who have made mankind divine, 
and who have thus stamped a divine character on reason, 
which is the essential attribute of man. It is these men who 
draw us towards an ideal society, while we yield to the pressure 
of the real one. 

All moral ideas interpenetrate each other, but none is more 
instructive than that of justice, in the first place, because it 
includes most of the others, and next, because it is expressed, 
in spite of its extraordinary richness, in simpler formulae; 
lastly and above all, because here the two forms of obligation 
are seen to dovetail into each other. Justice has always evoked 
ideas of equality, of proportion, of compensation. Pensare, 
from which we derive " compensation" and " recompense", 
means to weigh. Justice is represented as holding the scales. 
Equity signifies equality. Rules and regulation, right and 
righteousness are words which suggest a straight line. These 
references to arithmetic and geometry are characteristic of 
justice throughout its history. The idea must have already 
taken shape as far back as the days of exchange and barter; 
however rudimentary a community may be, it barters, and it 
cannot barter without first finding out if the objects exchanged 


are really equal in value, that is to say, both exchangeable for 
a definite third object. Let this equality of value be set up as 
a rule, this rule be given a place among the customs of the 
group, the "totality of obligation", as we called it, adding its 
weight to the rule: here we have justice already, in a clearly 
defined shape, with its imperative character, and the ideas of 
equality and reciprocity involved. But such justice will not 
only apply to the exchange of objects. It will extend gradually 
to intercourse between persons, though unable, for a long 
time to come, to shake off all idea of objects and exchanges. It 
will then consist mainly in the regulation of natural impulses 
by the introduction of the idea of a no less natural reciprocity, 
for example, the expectation of an injury equivalent to the 
injury done. In primitive societies, assaults on persons con- 
cern the community only exceptionally, when the act is likely 
to injure the community itself by bringing down upon it the 
wrath of the gods. The injured party or his family has only 
therefore to obey his instinct, react naturally, and avenge 
himself; and the reprisals might be out of all proportion to 
the offence, if this requital of evil for evil was not, to all 
appearances, vaguely subject to the general law of exchanges 
and barter. It is true that the quarrel might go on for ever, 
the "vendetta" might be kept up indefinitely by the two 
families, if one of them did not make up its mind to accept 
"damages" in cash; here the idea of compensation, already 
implied in the idea of exchange and barter, will clearly emerge. 
Now let the community itself undertake to exact punishment, 
to repress all acts of violence whatsoever, and it will be said 
that the community is dispensing justice, if the rule to which 
individuals and families referred for a settlement of their dis- 
putes were already being described by that term. Moreover, 
the community will assess the penalty according to the gravity 
of the offence, since otherwise there would be no object in 
stopping, once we have begun to do wrong; we should not 
run any greater risk by proceeding to extremities. An eye 
for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, the injury received must always 
be equivalent to the injury inflicted. But is the price of an 
eye always an eye, the price of a tooth always a tooth? Quality 


must be borne in mind as well as quantity. The law of retalia- 
tion is applied only within a class; the same injury sustained, 
the same offence received, will call for greater compensation, 
or heavier punishmejnt, if the victim belong to a higher class. 
In a word, equality may connote a ratio and become a pro- 
portion. Hence, though justice may embrace a greater and 
greater variety of things, it is always defined in the same way. 
Nor will its formula alter when, in a more civilized state, it 
extends to the relations between the rulers and the ruled, and 
in a more general way to those between different social cate- 
gories; into a state of things which only exists de facto it will 
introduce considerations of equality or proportion which will 
make of that state something mathematically defined, and, 
thereby, it would seem, pointed de jure. There is indeed no 
doubt that force lies at the origin of the division of ancient 
societies into classes subordinate to one another. But a subor- 
dination that is habitual ends by seeming natural, and by seek- 
ing for itself an explanation; if the inferior class has accepted 
its position for a considerable time, it may go on doing so when 
it has virtually become the stronger, because it will attribute 
to the governing class a superior value. And this superiority 
will be real, if the members of this class have taken advantage 
of the facilities they may have had for intellectual and moral 
improvement; but it may quite as well be a mere carefully- 
fostered appearance of superiority. However it may be, 
whether real or apparent, this superiority only needs to persist 
in order to seem a matter of birth; since hereditary privilege is 
there, there must be, people say to one another, some innate 
superiority. Nature, who intended ordered societies, has pre- 
disposed man to this illusion. Plato shared it in his Ideal 
Republic. If a class system is understood in this way, re- 
sponsibilities and privileges are looked upon as a common 
stock, to be eventually distributed among the individuals 
according to their worth, consequently according to the ser- 
vices they render. Justice here still holds her scales, measuring 
and proportioning. Now, from this justice, which, though it 
may not express itself in utilitarian terms, is none the less 
faithful to its mercantile origins, how shall we pass to the 


justice which implies neither exchange made nor service 
rendered, being the assertion pure and simple of the invio- 
lability of right and of the incommensurability of the person 
with any values whatever? Before answering this question, 
let us pause to admire the magic property of speech, I mean 
the power which a word bestows on a newly created idea 
when it extends to that idea after having been applied to a 
pre-existent object of modifying that object and thus retro- 
actively influencing the past. In whatever light we view the 
transition from relative to absolute justice, whether it took 
place by stages or all at once, there has been creation. Some- 
thing has supervened which might never have existed, which 
would not have existed except for certain circumstances, 
certain men, perhaps one particular man. But instead of 
realizing that some new thing has come and taken possession 
of the old and absorbed it into a whole that was up to then 
unforeseeable, we prefer looking upon the process as if the 
new thing had always been there, not actually but virtually 
pre-existing, and as if the old had been a part of it even then, 
a part of something yet uncreated; and on this showing 
the conceptions of justice which followed one another in 
ancient societies were no more than partial, incomplete 
visions of an integral justice which is nothing more or less 
than justice as we know it to-day. There is no need to analyse 
in detail this particular example of a very general illusion, 
barely noticed by philosophers, which has vitiated a goodly 
number of metaphysical doctrines and which sets the theory 
of knowledge insoluble problems. Let us simply say that it is 
part of our habit of considering all forward movement as a pro- 
gressive shortening of the distance between the starting-point 
(which indeed exists) and the goal, which only comes into 
being as a stopping-place when the moving object has chosen 
to stop there. It does not follow that, because it can always 
be interpreted in this sense when it has attained its end, the 
movement consisted in a progression towards this end: an 
interval which has still but one extremity cannot diminish 
little by little, since it is not yet an interval: it will have 
diminished little by little when the moving object has created, 


by its actual or virtual stopping, a second extremity, and 
when we consider it in retrospect or even simply trace the 
movement in its progress while, in anticipation, reconstitut- 
ing it in that way, backwards. But this is just what we do not 
realize for the most part; we introduce into the things them- 
selves, under the guise of the pre-existence of the possible 
in the real, this retrospective anticipation. This illusion 
lies at the root of many a philosophical problem; Zeno's 
Dichotomy has provided the typical example. And it is this 
same illusion which we find in ethics when the continually 
expanding forms of relative justice are defined as growing 
approximations of absolute justice. The most we are entitled 
to say is that once the latter is stated, the former might be 
regarded as so many halts along a road which, plotted out ret- 
rospectively by us, would lead to absolute justice. And even 
then we should have to add that there had been, not gradual 
progress, but at a certain epoch a sudden leap. It would be 
interesting to determine the exact point at which this saltus 
took place. And it would be no less instructive to find out how 
it was that, once conceived (in a vague form), absolute justice 
long remained no more than a respected ideal, without there 
being any question of translating it into practice. Let us 
simply say, in so far as the first point is concerned, that the 
long-standing inequalities of class, doubtless imposed in the 
beginning by force, and accepted afterwards as inequalities 
of merit and services rendered, become more and more ex- 
posed to the criticism of the lower classes; the ruling elements 
are, moreover, deteriorating, because, being too sure of them- 
selves, they are guilty of a slackening of that inner tension 
upon which they had called for a greater effort of intelligence 
and will, and which had consolidated their supremacy. They 
could indeed maintain their position if they held together; 
but because of their very tendency to assert their individuality, 
there will one day arise ambitious men from among them who 
mean to get the upper hand and who will seek support in the 
lower class, especially if the latter already has some share in 
affairs; and that day shatters the belief in a native superiority 
of the upper class, the spell is broken. Thus do aristocracies 


tend to merge into democracy, simply because political in- 
equality is an unstable thing, as, indeed, political equality, 
once it is established, will be, if it is only de facto, if therefore 
it admits of exceptions, if, for example, it tolerates slavery 
within the city. But it is a far cry from such examples of 
equilibrium, arrived at mechanically and always transitory, 
like that of the scales held by the justice of yore, to a justice 
such as ours, the justice of the "rights of man", which no 
longer evokes ideas of relativity and proportion, but, on the 
contrary, of the incommensurable and the absolute. Of this 
justice we could only form a complete idea if we were to 
"draw it out to infinity", as the mathematicians say; it is only 
formulated precisely and categorically at a stated time, by 
prohibitions; but on its positive side it proceeds by successive 
creations, each of them being a fuller realization than the last 
of personality and consequently of humanity. Such realiza- 
tion is only possible through the medium of laws; it implies 
the assent of society. It would, moreover, be futile to maintain 
that it takes place gradually and automatically, as a consequence 
of the state of mind of society at a given period of its history. 
It is a leap forward, which can only take place if society has 
decided to try the experiment; and the experiment will not 
be tried unless society has allowed itself to be won over, or at 
least stirred. Now the first start has always been given by 
someone. It is no use maintaining that this leap forward does 
not imply a creative effort behind it, and that we have not to 
do here with an invention comparable with that of the artist. 
That would be to forget that most great reforms appeared at 
first sight impracticable, as in fact they were. They could only 
be carried out in a society whose state of mind was already 
such as their realization was bound to bring about; and you 
had a circle from which there would have been no escape, 
if one or several privileged beings, having expanded the social 
ego within themselves, had not broken the circle and drawn 
the society after them. Now this is exactly what occurs in the 
miracle of artistic creation. A work of genius which is at first 
disconcerting may create, little by little, by the simple fact of 
its presence, a conception of art and an artistic atmosphere 


which bring it within our comprehension; it will then become 
in retrospect a work of genius; otherwise it would have 
remained what it was at the beginning, merely disconcerting. 
In a financial speculation, it is the success that causes the idea 
to have been a good one. Something much the same occurs 
in artistic creation, with this difference, that the success, if 
the work which at first repelled us eventually wins through, 
is due to a transformation of public taste brought about by 
the work itself, the latter being then force as well as matter; 
it has set up an impetus imparted to it by the artist, or rather 
one which is the very impetus of the artist, invisible and 
present within the work. The same can be said of moral 
invention, and more particularly of the creations which more 
and more enrich, one after the other, the idea of justice. They 
bear, above all, upon the substance of justice, but they 
modify its form as well. To take the latter first, let us lay 
down that justice has always appeared as obligatory, but that 
for a long time it was an obligation like other obligations. It 
met, like the others, a social need; and it was the pressure of 
society on the individual which made justice obligatory. This 
being so, an injustice was neither more nor less shocking than 
any other breach of the rules. There was no justice for slaves, 
save perhaps a relative, almost an optional justice. Public 
safety was not merely the supreme law, as indeed it has 
remained, it was furthermore proclaimed as such; whereas 
to-day we should not dare to lay down the principle that it 
justifies injustice, even if we accept any particular consequence 
of that principle. Let us dwell on this point, put to ourselves 
the famous question: "What should we do if we heard that 
for the common good, for the very existence of mankind, 
there was somewhere a man, an innocent man, condemned 
to suffer eternal torment?" Well, we should perhaps agree 
to it on the understanding that some magic philtre is going 
to make us forget it, that we shall never hear anything more 
about it; but if we were bound to know it, to think of it, to 
realize that this man's hideous torture was the price of our 
existence, that it was even the fundamental condition of exist- 
ence in general, no! a thousand times no! Better to accept 


that nothing should exist at all! Better let our planet be blown 
to pieces. Now what has happened? How has justice emerged 
from social life, within which it had always dwelt with no 
particular privilege, and soared above it, categorical and 
transcendent? Let us recall the tone and accents of the 
Prophets of Israel. It is their voice we hear when a great 
injustice has been done and condoned. From the depths of 
the centuries they raise their protest. True, justice has 
singularly expanded since their time. The justice they 
preached applied above all to Israel, their indignation against 
injustice was the very wrath of Jehovah against His dis- 
obedient people, or against the enemies of this chosen people. 
If any of them, like Isaiah, may have thought of universal 
justice, it was because Israel, the chosen of God among the 
other peoples, bound to God by a covenant, was so high above 
the rest of mankind that sooner or later it was destined to be 
taken as a model. None the less, they imparted to justice the 
violently imperative character which it has kept, which it has 
since stamped on a substance grown infinitely more extensive. 
But these extensions did not occur spontaneously either. 
On each one of them a competent historian could put a 
proper name. Each development was a creation, and indeed 
the door will ever stand open to fresh creations. The progress 
which was decisive for the substance of justice, as the era of 
the prophets had been for its form, consisted in the substitu- 
tion of a universal republic, embracing all men, for that 
republic which went no further than the gates of the city, and, 
within the city, was limited to free men. It is from this that 
all the rest has followed, for, if the door has remained open to 
new creations, and probably will for all time stand open, yet 
it must have been opened. There seems to be no doubt that 
this second advance, the passage from the closed to the open, 
is due to Christianity, as the first was due to the Prophets of 
Judaism. Could it have been brought about by mere phil- 
osophy? There is nothing more instructive than to see how 
the philosophers have skirted round it, touched it, and yet 
missed it. Let us leave out Plato, who certainly includes the 
Idea of man among the transcendent Ideas: did it not follow 


that all men were of the same essence? From this to the idea 
that all men, qua men, were of equal worth and that the 
common essence conferred on them the same fundamental 
rights, was but one step. But the step was not taken. It would 
have meant condemning slavery, giving up the Greek idea 
that foreigners, being barbarians, could claim no rights. Was 
it, in fact, an essentially Greek idea? We find it, implied in 
others, wherever Christianity has not penetrated, in modern 
as well as in ancient times. In China, for example, there have 
arisen very noble doctrines, but they have not been concerned 
with laying down laws for humanity; though they do not 
expressly say so, they are in fact only interested in the Chinese 
community. Indeed, before Christianity, we find Stoicism 
and, among the Stoics, philosophers who proclaim that all men 
are brothers, and that the wise man is a citizen of the world. 
But these dicta were the expression of an ideal, an ideal 
merely conceived, and very likely conceived as impracticable. 
There is nothing to show that any of the great Stoics, not 
even the Stoic who was an emperor, considered the possibility 
of lowering the barrier between the free man and the slave, 
between the Roman citizen and the barbarian. Humanity had 
to wait till Christianity for the idea of universal brotherhood, 
with its implication of equality of rights and the sanctity of 
the person, to become operative. Some may say that it has been 
rather a slow process; indeed eighteen centuries elapsed before 
the rights of man were proclaimed by the Puritans of America, 
soon followed by the men of the French Revolution. It began, 
nevertheless, with the teachings of the Gospels, and was 
destined to go on indefinitely; it is one thing for an idea to be 
merely propounded by sages worthy of admiration, it is very 
different when the idea is broadcast to the ends of the earth 
in a message overflowing with love, invoking love in return. 
Indeed there was no question here of clear-cut wisdom, re- 
ducible, from beginning to end, into maxims. There was rather 
a pointing of the way, a suggestion of the means; at most an 
indication of the goal, which would only be temporary, de- 
manding a constant renewal of effort. Such effort was bound 
to be, in certain individuals at least, an effort of creation. The 


method consisted in supposing possible what is actually im- 
possible in a given society, in imagining what would be its 
effect on the soul of society, and then inducing some such 
psychic condition by propaganda and example: the effect, once 
obtained, would retrospectively complete its cause; new feel- 
ings, evanescent indeed, would call forth the new legislation 
seemingly indispensable to their appearance, and which would 
then serve to consolidate them. The modern idea of justice 
has progressed in this way by a series of individual creations 
which have succeeded through multifarious efforts animated 
by one and the same impulse. Classical antiquity had known 
nothing of propaganda; its justice had the unruffled serenity 
of the gods upon Olympus. Spiritual expansion, missionary 
zeal, impetus, movement, all these are of Judaic-Christian 
origin. But because men went on using the same word, they 
too readily thought they were dealing with the same thing. 
We cannot too often repeat that successive creations, in- 
dividual and contingent, will be generally grouped under the 
same heading, classified under the same idea and labelled by 
the same name, if each one has given rise to the one that 
follows it and if they appear, in retrospect, as continuations of 
one another. Let us go further. The name will not apply only 
to the terms already existing of the series thus obtained. 
Encroaching on the future, it will denote the whole series, and 
it will be placed at the end, nay, be drawn out to infinity; as the 
designation was created long ago, we shall imagine the idea 
which it represents as having been also created just as long 
ago, and indeed existing since the beginning of time, though 
still open to additions and of undetermined content; thus each 
advance is imagined to be so much gained over an entity 
conceived as pre-existing; reality is looked upon as eating its 
way into the ideal, incorporating into itself, bit by bit, the 
totality of eternal justice. Now that is true not only of the idea 
of justice but also of the ideas which are cognate with it 
equality and liberty, for example. We are fond of defining the 
progress of justice as a forward movement towards liberty and 
equality. The definition is unimpeachable, but what are we to 
derive from it? It applies to the past; it can seldom guide our 


choice for the future. Take liberty, for instance. It is com- 
monly said that the individual is entitled to any liberty that 
does not infringe the liberty of others. But the granting of 
a new liberty, which, might lead to an encroachment of all 
the different liberties on one another in present-day society, 
might produce the opposite effect in a society where feeling 
and custom had been modified by that very reform. So that it 
is often impossible to state a priori the exact degree of liberty 
which can be allotted to the individual without injury to 
the liberty of his fellow-men; change the quantity, and the 
quality is no longer the same. On the other hand, equality 
can hardly be obtained, save at the expense of liberty, so that 
we should first ask ourselves which of the two is preferable 
to the other. But the question admits of no general answer; 
for the sacrifice of this or that liberty, if it is fully agreed upon 
by the citizens as a whole, partakes still of liberty; and above 
all, the liberty which is left may be superior in quality if the 
reform, tending towards greater equality, has led to a society 
where men breathe more freely, where greater joy is found in 
action. Look at it how you will, you must always come back 
to the conception of moral creators who see in their mind's 
eye a new social atmosphere, an environment in which life 
would be more worth living, I mean a society such that, if 
men once tried it, they would refuse to go back to the old 
state of things. Thus only is moral progress to be defined; 
but it is only in retrospect that it can be defined, when some 
exceptional moral nature has created a new feeling, like a new 
kind of music, and passed it on to mankind, stamping it with 
his own vitality. Think in this way of "liberty", of "equality", 
of "the sanctity of the individual", and you will see that you 
have here no mere difference of degree, but a radical differ- 
ence of nature between the two ideas of justice which we have 
distinguished, the one closed, the other open. For relatively 
stable justice, closed justice, which expresses the automatic 
equilibrium of a society fresh from the hands of nature, 
manifests itself in customs to which the totality of obligation 
is attached, and this totality of obligation ends by incorpor- 
ating, as public opinion progressively accepts them, the 


decrees of the other justice, the justice which is open to suc- 
cessive creations. Thus the two substances, the one supplied 
by society, the other a product of man's genius, come to be cast 
in the same mould. Indeed, in practice, they may well be 
indistinguishable. But the philosopher must discriminate the 
one from the other; if not, he is sure to misunderstand the 
nature of social evolution as well as the origin of duty. Social 
evolution is not the evolution of a society which has devel- 
oped according to a method destined to transform it later. 
Between the development and the transformation there is 
here neither analogy nor common measure. Because closed 
justice and open justice are incorporated in equally peremptory 
laws, expressing themselves in the same way, and outwardly 
similar, it does not follow that they must be explained in the 
same fashion. No example can bring out better than this the 
twofold origin of morality and the two elements of obligation. 
There can be no question that, in the present state of 
things, reason must appear the sole imperative, that it is 
to the interest of humanity to attribute an intrinsic force, 
an authority of their own to moral concepts, in a word that 
moral activity in a civilized society is essentially rational. 
How else could we tell what to do in each particular case? 
There are deep underlying forces here, one of impulsion, the 
other of attraction; we cannot refer directly to them each time 
we have to make a decision. To do so would, in most cases, 
simply amount to doing needlessly over again something 
which society, on the one hand, and the highest representa- 
tives of humanity on the other, have done for us. Their work 
has resulted in certain rules being laid down and an ideal 
being set up as a pattern: to live morally will mean to follow 
these rules, to conform to this ideal. In this way alone can 
we be sure of remaining in complete accord with ourselves: 
the rational alone is self-consistent. Only in this way can we 
compare various lines of conduct with one another; only in 
this way can we estimate their moral value. The thing is so 
obvious that we have barely hinted at it, we have nearly 
always taken it for granted. But the result was that our 
statement remained a mere diagram and might well appear 


inadequate. Indeed, on the intellectual plane, all the precepts 
of morality interpenetrate one another in concepts of which 
each one, like Leibnitz's monad, is more or less representa- 
tive of all the others. Above or below this plane, we find 
forces which, taken singly, correspond only to a part of what 
has been projected on the intellectual plane. Since this draw- 
back to the method we have adopted is undeniable, and indeed 
inevitable, since we perceive that we must use this method 
and since we feel that it cannot fail to raise objections through- 
out its application, we think it important, in conclusion, to 
dwell on it once more, define it yet again, even if we are once 
more obliged to repeat at certain points, and almost in the 
same terms, what we have already had occasion to say. 

A human society with its members linked together like 
the cells of an organism, or, what amounts almost to the 
same thing, like ants in an ant-hill, has never existed, but 
the groupings of primitive humanity were certainly nearer 
the ants than ours are to-day. Nature, in making man a social 
animal, intended that this solidarity should be very close, 
while relaxing it sufficiently to enable the individual to display, 
in the interests of society itself, the intelligence with which 
she has provided him. We went no further than this conten- 
tion, in the first part of our argument. As such, it would be of 
slight importance for any moral philosophy that accepted 
without question the belief in the heredity of acquired char- 
acters. Man might in that case be born to-day with very 
different tendencies from those of his remotest ancestors. 
But we rely upon experience, which teaches that the hereditary 
transmission of a contracted habit, assuming that it ever 
happens, is an exceptional and not a regular or frequent occur- 
rence, sufficient in the long run to bring about a far-reaching 
alteration in the nature of man. However radical the differ- 
ence may be between primitive man and civilized man, it is 
due almost solely to what the child has amassed since the 
first awakening of its consciousness; all the acquisitions of 
humanity during centuries of civilization are there, at his 
elbow, deposited in the knowledge imparted to him , in the tradi- 
tions, the institutions, the customs, the syntax and vocabulary 


of the language he learns to speak, and even in the gestures of 
the people about him. It is this thick humus which covers 
to-day the bed-rock of original nature. It may indeed repre- 
sent the slowly accumulated effects of an infinite variety of 
causes; it has, nevertheless, had to follow the general con- 
figuration of the soil on which it is deposited. In short, the 
obligation we find in the depths of our consciousness and 
which, as the etymology of the word implies, binds us to the 
other members of society, is a link of the same nature as that 
which unites the ants in the ant-hill or the cells of an organ- 
ism; it would take this form in the eyes of an ant, were she to 
become endowed with man's intelligence, or of an organic 
cell, were it to become as independent in its movements as an 
intelligent ant. I refer here of course to obligation taken in 
this simple form, devoid of matter: it is the irreducible, the 
ever-present element, even now, in our nature. It goes with- 
out saying that the matter wrought into this form becomes 
more and more intellectual and self-consistent as civilization 
progresses, and new matter accrues incessantly, not inevitably 
at the direct bidding of this form, but under the logical 
pressure of the intellectual matter already introduced into it. 
And we have seen also how a certain kind of matter which is 
intended to be run into a different mould, whose introduction 
is not due, even indirectly, to the need for social preservation, 
but to an aspiration of individual consciousness, adopts this 
form by settling down, like the rest of morality, on the intellec- 
tual plane. But every time we come back to the strictly impera- 
tive element in obligation, and even supposing we found in it 
everything intelligence had put there to enrich it, everything 
with which reason has hedged it round to justify it, we find 
ourselves once again confronted by this fundamental frame- 
work. So much for pure obligation. 

Now, a mystic society, embracing all humanity and moving, 
animated by a common will, towards the continually renewed 
creation of a more complete humanity, is no more possible 
of realization in the future than was the existence in the past 
of human societies functioning automatically and similar to 
lanimal societies. Pure aspiration is an ideal limit, just like 


obligation unadorned. It is none the less true that it is the 
mystic souls who draw and will continue to draw civilized 
societies in their wake. The remembrance of what they have 
been, of what they h'ave done, is enshrined in the memory of 
humanity. Each one of us can revive it, especially if he brings 
it in touch with the image, which abides ever living within 
him, of a particular person who shared in that mystic state 
and radiated around him some of its light. If we do not evoke 
this or that sublime figure, we know that we can do so; he 
thus exerts on us a virtual attraction. Even if we ignore 
individuals, there remains the general formula of morality 
accepted to-day by civilized humanity: this formula includes 
two things, a system of orders dictated by impersonal social 
requirements, and a series of appeals made to the conscience 
of each of us by persons who represent the best there is 
in humanity. The obligation relating to the orders is, in its 
original and fundamental elements, sub-rational. The potency 
of the appeal lies in the strength of the emotion it has aroused 
in times gone by, which it arouses still, or can arouse: this 
emotion, if only because it can indefinitely be resolved into 
ideas, is more than idea; it is supra-rational. The two forces, 
working in different regions of the soul, are projected on to 
the intermediary plane, which is that of intelligence. They will 
henceforth be represented by their projections. These inter- 
mingle and interpenetrate. The result is a transposition of 
orders and appeals into terms of pure reason. Justice thus 
finds itself continually broadened by pity; " charity" assumes 
more and more the shape of justice; the elements of morality 
become homogeneous, comparable, and almost commen- 
surable with one another; moral problems are clearly 
enunciated and methodically solved. Humanity is asked to 
place itself at a certain level, higher than that of animal society, 
where obligation would be but the force of instinct, but not 
so high as an assembly of gods, where everything would 
partake of the creative impetus. Considering then the mani- 
festations of moral life thus organized, we shall find them 
perfectly self-consistent, capable therefore of being referred 
to first principles. Moral life will be rational life. 


Everybody will agree on this point. But because we have 
established the rational character of moral conduct, it does 
not follow that morality has its origin or even its foundation 
in pure reason. The important question is to find out why 
we are "obliged" in cases where following our inclination 
by no means suffices to ensure that our duty is done. 

That in that case it is reason speaking, I am willing to 
admit; but, if it spoke only in its own name, if it did anything 
more than rationally express the action of certain forces 
which dwell behind it, how could it struggle against passion 
and self-interest? The philosopher who considers that reason 
is self-sufficient and claims to demonstrate this, only succeeds 
in his demonstration if he tacitly reintroduces these forces; 
in fact they have crept back themselves, unbeknown to him, 
surreptitiously. Just examine the demonstration. It takes two 
forms, according as it assumes reason to be void or grants it 
a content of matter, according as it sees in moral obligation 
the necessity, pure and simple, of remaining logically in 
agreement with itself, or an invitation logically to pursue a 
certain end. Let us take these two forms in turn. When Kant 
tells us that a deposit of money must be handed back because, 
if the recipient appropriated it, it would no longer be a 
deposit, he is obviously juggling with words. Either by 
"deposit" he means the material fact of placing a sum of 
money in the hands (say) of a friend, with an intimation that 
it will be called for later. But this material fact alone, with 
this intimation alone, would have no other effect than that 
of 'impelling the holder to give back the sum if he has no 
need of it, or simply to appropriate it if he is short of money; 
both proceedings are equally consistent, equally logical, so 
long as the word deposit evokes only a material image un- 
accompanied by moral conceptions. Or else moral considera- 
tions are involved, there is the idea that the deposit has been 
"entrusted" and that a trust "must not" be betrayed; the 
idea that the holder has pledged himself, that he has "given 
his word"; the idea that, even if he has said nothing, he is 
bound by a tacit "contract"; the idea that there exists a "right 
of property" etc. Then indeed it would be self-contradictory 


to accept a deposit and refuse to give it back; the deposit 
would no longer be a deposit; the philosopher might say 
that the breach of morality in this case pertains to the 
irrational. But it would be because the word "deposit" was 
taken in the sense that it has in a human group possessing 
fully developed moral ideas, conventions and obligations; the 
moral obligation would no longer amount to the bare and 
empty necessity of not contradicting oneself, since the contra- 
diction in this case would simply consist in rejecting, after 
having accepted it, a moral obligation which for this very 
reason was already there. But enough of these quibbles. It is 
quite natural that we should meet with a pretension to found 
morality on a respect for logic among philosophers and 
scholars, who are accustomed to bow to logic in speculative 
matters, and are thus inclined to believe that in all matters, 
and for the whole of humanity, logic must be accepted as 
the sovereign authority. But because science must respect 
the logic of things and logic in general if it wants to succeed 
in its researches, because such is the interest of the scientist 
as a scientist, it is not to be concluded that we are obliged 
always to conform to logic in our conduct, as though such 
were the interest of man in general, or even the interest of the 
t scientist as man. Our admiration for the speculative function 
jof the mind may be great; but when philosophers maintain 
that it should be sufficient to silence selfishness and passion, 
they prove to us and this is a matter for congratulation 
that they have never heard the voice of the one or the other 
very loud within themselves. So much for a morality claiming 
as its basis reason in the guise of pure form, without matter. 
Before considering the morality which adds matter to this 
form, we must note that people often get no further than 
the first when they think they have reached the second. That 
is the case with those philosophers who explain moral 
obligation by the fact that the idea of the Good forces itself 
upon us. If they take this idea from organized society, where 
human actions are already classified according as they are 
more or less appropriate for maintaining social cohesion and 
furthering the progress of humanity, and, above all, where 


certain clearly defined forces produce this cohesion and 
bring about this progress, they can doubtless say that an 
activity is more moral, the more it conforms to the Good; 
and they might also add that the Good is conceived as claim- 
ing obedience. But this is because the Good would be merely 
the heading under which men agree to classify the actions 
which present one or the other feature and to which they feel 
themselves prompted by the forces of impulse and attraction 
which we have defined. The notion of a graduated scale of 
these various lines of conduct, and therefore of their re- 
spective values, and, on the other hand, the all but inevitable 
necessity which forces them upon us, must then have existed 
before the idea of Good, which appeared later simply to 
provide a label or name; this idea, left to itself, would have 
lent no assistance to their classification, and still less to their 
enforcement. But if, on the contrary, it is maintained that 
the idea of the Good is at the source of all obligation and all 
aspiration, and that it should also serve to evaluate human 
actions, we must be told by what sign we shall recognize 
that a given line of conduct is in conformity with it; we must 
therefore be furnished with a definition of the Good; and 
we fail to see how it can be defined without assuming a 
hierarchy of creatures, or at the very least, of actions, of 
varying elevation: but if the hierarchy exists by itself, there 
is no need to call upon the idea of the Good to establish it; 
besides, we do not see why this hierarchy ought to be main- 
tained, why we should be bound to respect it; you can only 
invoke in its favour aesthetic reasons, allege that a certain 
line of conduct is "finer" than another, that it sets us more 
or less high up in the ranks of living beings: but what could 
you reply to the man who declared that he places his own 
interest before all other considerations? Looking more closely, 
one would see that this morality has never been self-sufficient. 
It has simply been added on, as an artistic make-weight, to 
obligations which existed before it, and rendered it possible. 
When Greek philosophers attributed a pre-eminent dignity 
to the pure idea of Good, and, more generally, to a life of 
contemplation, they were speaking for a chosen few, a small 


group formed within society, which would begin by taking 
social life for granted. It has been said that this morality 
was silent about duty and knew nothing of obligation as we 
understand it. True, it was silent about it; but that was 
precisely because it assumed obligation to be self-evident. 
The philosopher was supposed to have begun by doing his 
duty like anybody else, as demanded of him by the city. 
Only then did a morality supervene, destined to make his 
life more beautiful by treating it as a work of art. In a word, 
and to sum up the discussion, there can be no question of 
founding morality on the cult of reason. It remains to be 
seen, as we have said, whether it could be founded on reason 
in so far as reason might supply our activity with a definite 
object, in conformity with reason, but supplementary to it, 
an object towards which reason would teach us to strive 
systematically. But it is easy to see that no objective not 
even the twofold one we have indicated, not even the dual 
preoccupation of maintaining social cohesion and of further- 
ing the progress of humanity will impose itself peremptorily 
as a mere rational proposition. If certain really active forces, 
actually influencing our will, are already in possession, reason 
could and should intervene to co-ordinate their effects, but 
it could not contend with them, since one can always reason 
with reason, confront its arguments with others, or simply 
refuse all discussion and reply by a "sic volo, sic jubeo". In 
truth, a system of ethics which imagines it is founding obli- 
gation on purely rational considerations, unwittingly re- 
introduces, as we have pointed out already and as we shall 
point out again, forces of a different order. That is exactly 
why it succeeds so easily. Real obligation is already there, 
and whatever reason impresses upon it assumes naturally an 
obligatory character. Society, with all that holds it together 
and drives it forward, is already there, and that is why reason 
can adopt as a principle of morality one or the other of the 
ends towards which social man is striving; by building up 
a thoroughly consistent system of means destined to attain 
this end, reason will more or less rediscover morality, such 
as common sense conceives it, such as humanity in general 


practises, or claims to practise it. For each of these objectives, 
culled by reason from society, has been socialized and, by 
that very fact, impregnated with all the other aims to be 
found there. Thus, even if we set up personal interest as the 
moral principle, we shall find no great difficulty in building 
up a rational morality sufficiently resembling current morality, 
as is proved by the relative success of utilitarian ethics. 
Selfishness, indeed, for the man living among his fellow-men, 
comprises legitimate pride, the craving for praise, etc., with 
the result that purely personal interest has become impossible 
to define, so large is the element of public interest it contains, 
so hard is it to keep them separate. Think of the amount of 
deference for others included in what we call self-love, and 
even in jealousy and envy! Anyone wanting to practise 
absolute egoism would have to shut himself up within him- 
self, and not care enough for his neighbour to be jealous or 
envious of him. There is a touch of sympathy in these forms 
of hate, and the very vices of a man living among his fellows 
are not without certain implications of virtue; all are saturated 
with vanity, and vanity means sociability. Still easier will it 
be, then, to draw all moral maxims, or nearly all, from feelings 
such as honour, or sympathy, or pity. Each of these tend- 
encies, in a man living in society, is laden with all that social 
morality has deposited in it; and we should have to unload 
it first, at the risk of reducing it to very little indeed, if we 
wished to avoid begging the question in using it to explain 
morality. The ease with which theories of this kind are 
built up should make us suspicious: if the most varied aims 
can thus be transmuted by philosophers into moral aims, 
we may surmise, seeing that they have not yet found the 
philosopher's stone, that they had started by putting gold in 
the bottom of their crucible. Similarly it is obvious that none 
of these doctrines will account for obligation. For we may 
be obliged to adopt certain means in order to attain such 
and such ends; but if we choose to renounce the end, how 
can the means be forced upon us? And yet, by adopting any 
one of these ends as the principle of morality, philosophers 
have evolved from it whole systems of maxims, which, without 


going so far as to assume an imperative form, come near 
enough to it to afford satisfaction. The reason is quite simple. 
They have considered the pursuit of these ends, we repeat, 
in a society in which there are peremptory pressures, together 
with aspirations to match them and also to extend them. 
Pressure and attraction, specifying their objectives, would lead 
to any one of these systems of maxims, since each of them 
aims at the attainment of an end both individual and social. 
Each of these systems then already exists in the social 
atmosphere when the philosopher arrives on the scene; it 
comprises maxims which are near enough in substance to 
those which the philosopher will formulate, the former being 
1 obligatory. Rediscovered by philosophy, but no longer in the 
form of a command since they are now mere suggestions for 
the intelligent pursuit of an end, such as intelligence might 
easily repudiate, they are snapped up by the vaguer or per- 
haps merely virtual maxims which resemble them, but which 
are laden with obligation. They thus become obligatory, but 
the obligation has not come down, as might be imagined, 
from above, that is to say, from a principle from which the 
maxims have been rationally deduced; it has come up from 
below, I mean from that substratum of pressure, capable of 
being extended into aspiration, which is the basis of society. 
In a word, the moral theorists take society for granted and 
consequently also the two forces to which society owes its 
stability and its mobility. Taking advantage of the fact that 
all social ends interpenetrate one another, and that each of 
them, resting as it were on that stability and mobility, seems 
to be invested with these two forces, they have no difficulty 
in reconstituting the content of morals with one or other 
of the ends assumed as a principle, and then showing that 
such morality is obligatory. For, by taking society for granted, 
they have also taken for granted the matter of this morality 
and its form, all it contains and all the obligation with which 
it is clothed. 

If we now delve down beneath that illusion which is 
common to all theoretical moral systems, this is what we 
should find. Obligation is a necessity with which one can 


argue, and which is therefore companioned by intelligence 
and liberty. This necessity is, in fact, similar to that which 
accompanies the production of a physiological or even a 
physical effect; in a humanity which nature had made devoid 
of intelligence, where the individual had no power to choose, 
the action destined to maintain the preservation and cohesion 
of the group would be accomplished inevitably; it would be 
accomplished under the influence of a definite force, the same 
that makes each ant toil for the ant-hill and each cell in the 
tissue work for the organism. But intelligence intervenes with 
its faculty of choice; this is a new force which maintains the 
other in a state of virtuality, or rather in a state of reality 
barely discernible in its action, yet perceptible in its pressure: 
just as the swinging to and fro of the pendulum in a clock, 
while it prevents the tension of the spring from manifesting 
itself by a sudden unwinding, is yet a consequence of this 
tension, being an effect which exerts an inhibitive or regulat- 
ing action on its causes. What then will intelligence do? It 
is a faculty used naturally by the individual to meet the 
difficulties of life; it will not follow the direction of a force 
which, on the contrary, is working for the species, and which, if 
it considers the individual at all, does so in the interest of the 
species. It will make straight for selfish decisions. But this 
will only be its first impulse. It cannot avoid reckoning with 
the force of which it feels the invisible pressure. It will there- 
fore persuade itself into thinking that an intelligent egoism 
must allow all other egoisms their share. And if the intelli- 
gence is that of a philosopher, it will build up a theory of 
ethics in which the interpenetration of personal and general 
interests will be demonstrated, and where obligation will be 
brought back to the necessity, realized and felt, of thinking of 
others, if we wish intelligently to do good to ourselves. But we 
can answer that it does not suit us to see our interests in 
this light, and it is therefore not obvious why we should still 
feel obliged. Yet we are obliged, and intelligence is well aware 
of it, since this is the very reason why it attempted the demon- 
stration. But the truth is that its demonstration only seems 
successful because it clears the way for something it does not 


mention, and which is the essential: a necessity that pertains 
to experience and feeling, one which some argument has thrust 
into the background and which an opposing argument re- 
instates. What is therefore, strictly speaking, obligatory in 
obligation does not come from intelligence. The latter only 
supplies the element of hesitation in obligation. When it 
appears to be the basis of obligation, it is merely sustaining it 
in its resistance to a resistance, in the operation of inhibiting 
itself from inhibiting. And we shall see in the next chapter 
what helpers it enlists. For the present, let us revert to a 
comparison we have found useful. An ant, accomplishing her 
heavy task as if she never thought of herself, as if she only 
lived for the ant-hill, is very likely in a somnambulistic state; 
she is yielding to an irresistible necessity. Imagine her 
suddenly becoming intelligent. She would reason about what 
she had done, wonder why she had done it, would say it was 
very foolish not to take things easy and have a good time. 
"I have had enough of sacrifice, now is the time for a little 
self-indulgence." And behold the natural order completely 
upset. But nature is on the watch. She provided the ant with 
the social instinct; she has just added to it, perhaps in response 
to a transitory need of instinct, a gleam of intelligence. How- 
ever slightly intelligence has thrown instinct out of gear, it 
must incontinently set things to rights and undo what it has 
done. An act of reasoning will therefore prove that it is all 
to the interest of the ant to work for the ant-hill, and in this 
way the obligation will apparently find a basis. But the truth 
is that such a basis would be very unsafe, and that obliga- 
tion already existed in all its force; intelligence has merely 
hindered its own hindrance. Our ant-hill philosopher would 
be none the less disinclined to admit this; he would doubtless 
persist in attributing a positive and not a negative activity to 
intelligence. And that is just what most moral philosophers 
have done, either because they were intellectuals and afraid 
of not according enough importance to intelligence, or rather 
because obligation appeared to them as an indivisible entity, 
defying analysis; on the contrary, if we see in it something 
approximate to a compulsion which may be thwarted by a 


resistance, we realize that the resistance has come from ' 
intelligence, the resistance to the resistance likewise, and that 
the compulsion, which is the essential, has a different origin. 
In truth, no philosopher can avoid initially postulating this 
compulsion; but very often he postulates it implicitly, and not 
in words. We have postulated it and said so. We connect it, 
moreover, with a principle that it is impossible not to admit. 
For, to whatever school of philosophy you belong, you are 
bound to recognize that man is a living creature, that the 
evolution of life along its two main lines has been accom- 
plished in the direction of social life, that association is the 
most general form of living activity, since life is organization, 
and that, this being so, we pass by imperceptible transitions 
from the relation between cells in an organism to the relation 
between individuals in society. We therefore confine ourselves 
to noting what is uncontroverted and incontrovertible. But, 
this being admitted, any theorising on obligation becomes un- 
necessary as well as futile: unnecessary because obligation is 
a necessity of life; ineffectual because the hypothesis pre- 
sented can, at the utmost, afford justification in the eyes of 
intelligence, and very incomplete justification at that, for an 
obligation anterior to this intellectual reconstruction. 

Now, life might have stopped at this point and done 
nothing more than create closed societies, whose members 
were bound together by strict obligations. Composed of 
intelligent beings, these societies would have presented varia- 
tions not to be found in animal societies, which are governed 
by instinct; but the variations would not have gone so far as 
to encourage the dream of a root and branch transformation; 
society would not have become modified to the extent that a 
single society, embracing all mankind, could seem possible. 
In fact, this society does not yet, and perhaps never will, exist; 
in according to man the requisite moral conformation for 
living in groups, nature probably did all she could for the 
species. But, just as there have been men of genius to thrust 
back the bounds of intelligence, and, thus, far more has 
been granted to individuals, at certain intervals, than it was 
possible to grant all at once to the species, so exceptional 


souls have appeared who sensed their kinship with the soul of 
Everyman, who thus, instead of remaining within the limits of 
the group and going no further than the solidarity laid down by 
nature, were borne on a great surge of love towards humanity 
in general. The appearance of each one of them was like the 
creation of a new species, composed of one single individual, 
the vital impulse culminating at long intervals in one par- 
ticular man, a result which could not have been obtained at 
one stroke by humanity as a whole. Each of these souls 
marked then a certain point attained by the evolution of life; 
and each of them was a manifestation, in an original form, 
of a love which seems to be the very essence of the creative 
effort. The creative emotion which exalted these exceptional 
souls, and which was an overflowing of vitality, has spread 
far and wide about them; enthusiasts themselves, they radi- 
ated enthusiasm which has never been completely quenched, 
and which can be readily fanned into flame again. To-day, 
when in imagination we call to life these great moral leaders, 
when we listen to their words and see them at work, we feel 
that they communicate to us something of their fervour, and 
draw us in their wake; this is no longer a more or less attenu- 
ated compulsion, it is a more or less irresistible attraction. 
But neither does this second force, any more than the first, 
call for an explanation. For you cannot reject these two data: 
a compulsion, or something like it, exerted by habits which 
correspond, in man, to what you call instinct in animals, and, 
beside this, a certain stirring up of the soul, which you call 
emotion; in the one case you have primal obligation, in the 
other, something which becomes an extension of it; but in both 
cases you are confronted by forces which are not strictly and 
exclusively moral, and whose origin, therefore, it is no special 
duty of the moralist to trace. Because they have nevertheless 
insisted on doing so, philosophers have misunderstood the 
compound nature of obligation in its present-day form: they 
have been led to attribute to this or that mental picture or 
operation the power of influencing the will: as if an idea could 
ever categorically demand its own realization 1 as if the idea 
were anything else, in this case, than an intellectual extract 


common to all, or, better still, the projection on to the intellect- 
ual plane of a whole set of tendencies and aspirations, some 
above, some beneath pure intelligence! Reinstate the duality 
of origin, and the difficulties vanish. Nay, the duality itself 
merges into a unity, for "social pressure" and "impetus of 
love" are but two complementary manifestations of life, 
normally intent on preserving generally the social form which 
was characteristic of the human species from the beginning, 
but, exceptionally, capable of transfiguring it, thanks to in- 
dividuals who each represent, as the appearance of a new 
species would have represented, an effort of creative evolution. 
All teachers have not perhaps a full perception of this 
double origin of morality, but they perceive something of it 
as soon as they try to inculcate morality into their pupils 
instead of merely talking about it. We do not deny the 
utility, the necessity even, of a moral instruction which appeals 
to reason alone, defining duties and connecting them with a 
principle of which it follows out in detail the various applica- 
tions. It is on the plane of intelligence, and on that plane 
alone, that discussion is possible, and there is no complete 
morality without reflexion, analysis and argument with others 
as well as with oneself. But if instruction directed to the 
intelligence be indispensable to give confidence and delicacy 
to the moral sense, if it make us fully capable of carrying out 
our intention where our intention is good, yet the intention 
must exist in the first place, and intention marks a direction 
of the will as much as and more than of intelligence. How can 
we get a hold over the will? Two ways lie open to the teacher. 
The one is that of training, in the highest meaning of the 
word; the other the mystic way, the term being taken here, on 
the contrary, in its most restricted sense. By the first method 
is inculcated a morality made up of impersonal habits; by 
the second we obtain the imitation of a person, and even a 
spiritual union, a more or less complete identification. The 
primeval training, the training intended by nature, consisted in 
adopting the habits of the group; it was automatic; it took place 
spontaneously in those cases where the individual felt himself 
half merged in the collectivity. As society became different!- 


ated through a division of labour, it delegated to the groups 
thus formed within itself the task of training the individual, 
of putting him in harmony with the group and thereby with 
society itself; but it was still nothing more than a system of 
habits formed for the sole benefit of society. That a morality 
of this type may suffice at a pinch, if it be complete, there is 
no doubt. Thus the man confined strictly within the limits of 
his calling or profession, wholly absorbed in his daily task, 
with his life organized so as to turn out the greatest possible 
quantity, the best possible quality of work, would generally 
fulfil ipso facto many other obligations. Discipline would 
have made him an honest man. This is the first method: it 
works in the sphere of the impersonal. The other can supple- 
ment it, if need be; it may even take its place. We do not 
hesitate to call it religious, and even mystic; but we must 
agree upon the meaning of the words. People are fond of 
saying that religion is the helpmeet of morality in that it 
induces a fear of punishment and a hope of reward. This is 
perhaps true, but they should add that, in this direction, 
religion does little more than promise an extension and recti- 
fication of human justice by divine justice: to the rewards and 
punishments established by society, whose application is so 
far from perfect, it adds others, infinitely higher, to be meted 
out to us in the City of God, when we shall have left the city 
of men; still it is on the same plane of the city of men that we 
thus remain; religion is brought in, doubtless, but not in its 
specifically religious aspect; however high the teaching may 
rise, it still looks upon moral education as training, and upon 
morality as discipline; so that it still clings to the first of our 
two methods, it has not yet sprung over to the second. On the 
other hand, it is of religious dogmas and the metaphysical 
theories they imply that we generally think as soon as the 
word religion is mentioned: so that when religion is said to be 
the foundation of morality, we picture to ourselves a group of 
conceptions relating to God and the world, the acceptance of 
which is supposed to result in the doing of good. But it is 
quite clear that these conceptions, taken as such, influence our 
will and our conduct in the same way as theories may do, that 


is to say, ideas; we are here on the intellectual plane, and, as I 
hinted above, neither obligation nor the force which extends it 
can possibly originate in bare ideas, the latter only working 
on our will to the extent which it pleases us to accept them 
or put them into practice. Now if you distinguish this meta- 
physical system from all others by saying that it compels our 
assent, you may again be right, but then you are not thinking 
of its content alone, of ideas pure and simple; you introduce 
something different, which underpins the representation, 
which imparts to it some undeniable efficacy, and which is the 
specifically religious element: but then it is this element, and 
not the metaphysics with which you have associated it, which 
becomes the religious basis of morality. Here indeed we are 
concerned with the second method, but then we are dealing 
with mystic experience. I mean mystic experience taken in its 
immediacy, apart from all interpretation. True mystics simply 
open their souls to the oncoming wave. Sure of themselves, 
because they feel within them something better than them- 
selves, they prove to be great men of action, to the surprise 
of those for whom mysticism is nothing but visions, and 
raptures and ecstasies. That which they have allowed to flow 
into them is a stream flowing down and seeking through 
them to reach their fellow-men; the necessity to spread 
around them what they have received affects them like an on- 
slaught of love. A love which each one of them stamps with 
his own personality. A love which is in each of them an 
entirely new emotion, capable of transposing human life into 
another tone. A love which thus causes each of them to be 
loved for himself, so that through him, and for him, other 
men will open their souls to the love of humanity. A love 
which can be just as well passed on through the medium of a 
person who has attached himself to them or to their ever- 
green memory and formed his life on that pattern. Let us go 
further. If a word of a great mystic, or some one of his 
imitators, finds an echo in one or another of us, may it not be 
that there is a mystic dormant within us, merely waiting for 
an occasion to awake? In the first case a person attaches 
himself to the impersonal and aims at finding room inside it. 


Here he responds to the call of a personality, perhaps that of a 
revealer of moral life or one of his imitators, or even in certain 
circumstances of his own person. 

Whichever of these two methods be adopted, in both cases 
the foundations of human nature have been taken into account, 
whether considered statically in itself, or dynamically in its 
origin. The mistake would be to think that moral pressure 
and moral aspiration find their final explanation in social 
life considered merely as a fact. We are fond of saying that 
society exists, and that hence it inevitably exerts a constraint 
on its members, and that this constraint is obligation. But 
in the first place, for society to exist at all the individual must 
bring into it a whole group of inborn tendencies; society 
therefore is not self-explanatory; so we must search below 
the social accretions, get down to Life, of which human 
societies, as indeed the human species altogether, are but 
manifestations. But this is not going far enough; we must 
delve deeper still if we want to understand, not only how 
society "constrains" individuals, but again how the individual 
can set up as a judge and wrest from it a moral transforma- 
tion. If society is self-sufficient, it is the supreme authority. 
But if it is only one of the aspects of life, we can easily con- 
ceive that life, which has had to set down the human species 
at a certain point of its evolution, imparts a new impetus to 
exceptional individuals who have immersed themselves anew 
in it, so that they can help society further along its way. 
True, we shall have had to pusluon as far as the very principle 
of life. Everything is obscure if we confine ourselves to mere 
manifestations, whether they are all called indiscriminately 
social, or whether one examines, in social man, more par- 
ticularly the feature of intelligence. All becomes clear, on 
the contrary, if we start by a quest beyond these manifesta- 
tions for Life itself. Let us then give to the word biology 
the very wide meaning it should have, and will perhaps have 
one day, and let us say in conclusion that all morality, be it 
pressure or aspiration, is in essence biological. 



THE spectacle of what religions have been in the past, of 
what certain religions still are to-day, is indeed humiliating 
for human intelligence. What a farrago of error and folly! 
Experience may indeed say "that is false", and reasoning "that 
is absurd". Humanity only clings all the more to that absurdity 
and that error. And if this were all! But religion has been 
known to enjoin immorality, to prescribe crime. The cruder 
it is, the more actual space it occupies in the Jjfe of apeppte. 
What it will have to share later with science, art, philosophy, 
it demands and obtains at first for itself alone. And that is 
indeed a matter for surprise, seeing that we began by defining 
man as an intelligent being. 

Our bewilderment increases when we see that the most crass 
superstition has so long been a universal fact. Indeed it still 
survives. We find in the past, we could find to-day, human 
societies with neither science nor art nor philosophy. But! 
there has never been a society without religion. 

What should be then our confusion, Were we to compare 
ourselves with animals on this point! It is highly probable 
that animals are unacquainted with superstition. We know 
but little of what goes on in minds not our own; but, since 
religious feeling generally finds expression in attitudes or 
in acts, we should certainly be made aware by some sign, if 
animals were capable of a religious sense. But there is nothing 
for it, facts must be faced. Homo sapiens, the only creature 
endowed with reason, is also the only creature to pin its 
existence to things unreasonable. 

People talk, indeed, of a "primitive mentality", as, for 
example, to-day that of the inferior races, and in days gone 
by that of humanity in general, at whose door the responsi- 
bility for superstition should be laid. If this means the mere 



grouping of certain ways of thinking under one common 
heading, and the noting of ^certain connecting links between 
them, that is indeed useful and unexceptionable work; useful 
in that it marks off # field of ethnological and psychological 
studies which are of the greatest interest; unexceptionable 
since it does no more than establish the existence of certain 
beliefs and certain practices in a humanity less civilized than 
our own. It is to this that M. Levy-Bruhl has apparently 
confined himself in his remarkable works and particularly 
in the later ones. But this leaves untouched the question as 
to how beliefs and practices which are anything but reason- 
able could have been, and still are, accepted by reasonable 
beings. We cannot refrain from seeking an answer to this 
question. Whether he will or no, the reader of M. Levy- 
Bruhl 's admirable books will draw from them the conclusion 
that human intelligence has gone through a process of evolu- 
tion, that natural logic has not always been the same, that 
"primitive mentality" corresponds to a different fundamental 
structure, which was supplanted by our own, and which is 
only found to-day among backward peoples. But this is an 
admission that habits of mind acquired by individuals in 
the course of centuries can have become hereditary, modify- 
ing nature and giving a new mentality to the species. There 
is nothing more questionable. Even supposing that a habit 
formed by parents is ever transmitted to the child, it is a rare 
occurrence, due to accidental coincidence of a whole con- 
course of circumstances: it will give rise to no modification 
of the species. But then, since the structure of the mind 
remains the same, the experience acquired by successive 
generations, deposited in the social environment, and given 
back to each of us by these surroundings, should suffice to 
explain why we do not think like uncivilized man, why man 
of bygone days was different from man of to-day. The mind 
works just the same in both cases, but it may not be working 
on the same material, because the needs of society are scarcely 
likely to be the same in the one case as in the other. Our own 
investigations willlndeed lead us to this conclusion. Without 
anticipating it, let us merely say that the observation of 


"primitive beings" inevitably raises the question of the 
psychological origin of superstition, and that the general 
structure of human thought the observation therefore of 
civilized man of the present day will appear to us to supply 
sufficient data for the solution of the problem. 

We shall have much the same thing to say when we come 
to "collective" instead of "primitive" mentality. According 
to Emile Durkheim, there is no need to try and find out 
why those things which such or such a religion ask us to 
believe "appear so disconcerting to individual minds. This 
is simply because the representation of those things by 1 
religion is not the work of these minds, but that of the col- 
lective mind. Now it is natural that this mentality should see 1 
reality differently from our own mind, since it is of another 
nature. Society has its own mode of existence peculiar to 
it, and therefore its own mode of thinking." x So far as we 
are concerned, we shall readily admit the existence of collect- 
ive representations, deposited in institutions, language and 
customs. Together they constitute a social intelligence which 
is the complement of individual intelligences. But we fail to 
see why these two mentalities should clash, and why one 
should be liable to "disconcert" the other. Experience teaches 
nothing of the kind, and sociology appears to us to afford no 
grounds for the supposition. If we held the view that nature 
stopped short at the individual, that society is the result of 
an accident or a convention, we could push the argument 
to its conclusion and maintain that this conjunction of in- 
dividuals, similar to that of primary elements united in a 
chemical combination, has given birth to a collective intelli- 
gence, certain representations of which will be puzzling to 
the individual mind. But nowadays nobody attributes an 
accidental or contractual origin to society. If sociology is open 
to criticism, it would rather be that it leans too much the 
other way: certain of its exponents tend to regard the 
individual as an abstraction, and the social body as the only 
reality. But in that case, how could it be that the collective 
mentality is not prefigured in the individual mentality? How 
1 Annie sociologique, vol. ii. pp. 29 sqq. 


can we imagine that nature, having made man a "political 
animal", so disposed human intelligence that it feels out of its 
element when it thinks "politically"? For our part, we believe 
that in the study of the individual one can never overestimate 
the fact that the individual was meant for society. Because 
it has not sufficiently taken this into account, psychology has 
made such meagre progress in certain directions. I am not 
speaking of the benefit to be derived from an intensive study 
of certain abnormal or morbid states, implying among the 
members of a community, as among the bees in a hive, an 
invisible anastomosis: away from the hive, the bee pines 
away and dies; isolated from society or sharing insufficiently 
in its activities, man suffers from a similar malady very little 
studied up to now, called listlessness; when isolation is 
prolonged, as in solitary confinement, characteristic mental 
troubles appear. These phenomena would well deserve to 
have a separate account opened for them in the books of 
psychology; when closed it would show a handsome profit. 
But this is not putting it strongly enough. The future of a 
science depends on the way it first dissects its object. If it 
has had the luck to cut along the lines of the natural joints, 
like Plato's good cook, the number of "cuts" is of little 
matter; v as the cutting up into pieces will have prepared the 
way for the analysis into elements, we shall be finally in 
possession of a simplified representation of the whole. Our 
psychologists do not sufficiently realize this when they shrink 
from making subdivisions. For instance, they postulate certain 
general faculties of perception, interpretation, comprehension, 
without enquiring whether the mechanisms that come into 
play are not different, according as the faculties apply to 
persons or things, or according as the intelligence is immersed 
or not in the social environment. And yet the mass of man- 
kind has already sketched out this distinction, and has even 
recorded it in language: alongside of the senses which inform 
us about things it puts common sense, which bears on our 
intercourse with people. We cannot help observing that, -a 
man n^J^ a first-rate mjtheimto 
or a subtle psychologist, as far as self-analysis goes, and yet 


completely misunderstand the actions of ,other jnen, mis- 

calculate Ris own ' aflcf"^^ 

his' i ^ < fftltiHffingsrEe, in a word, lacking in common sense! 

f *.* -v*i - i iriUAy*\^ tf *' i ' Mi>M> ^ *** *-. -*** >> .-<w<ltt.- . -***. *.*..*-- .^-.-' 

ThdTtfionomania of persecution, or more precisely of misinter- 
pretation, is there to prove that .common sense may become 
impaired while the reasoning faculties remain intact. The 
gravity of this malady, its obstinate resistance to all treatment, 
the fact that the early symptoms are generally to be detected 
in the remotest past of the sufferer, everything would seem 
to indicate that we have here a profound congenital psychic 
insufficiency, and one that is clearly defined. Common sense, 
then, or as it might be called, social sense, is innate in normal 
man, like the faculty of speech, which also implies the 
existence of society and which is none the less prefigured in 
individual organisms. It is indeed hard to admit that nature, 
which placed social life at the extremities of the two great 
lines of evolution ending respectively 4i> the hymenopterae 
and in man, while regulating beforehand the detailed activity 
of every ant in the ant-hill, should have neglected to give man 
any guiding principles, however general, for the co-ordination 
of his conduct with that of his fellow-men. Human societies 
doubtless differ from insect societies in that they leave y un- 
determined the actions of the individual, and indeed those 
of the collectivity also. But this is equivalent to saying that 
it is the actions which are preordained in the insect's nature, 
and that in man it is the faculty alone. The faculty is none 
the less there, being so organized in the individual that it may 
function in society. How then should there be a social 
mentality supervening, as if it were an additional factor, and 
liable to "disconcert" the individual mentality? How could 
the first fail to be present in the second? The problem which 
we stated, and which consists in ascertaining how absurd 

We saidtftait, though we may persist in speaking of primitive 
mentality, the problem *none the less bears on the psychology 
of the man of to-day. We shall add that, though we may 
^persist in speaking of collective representations, the question 


none the less concerns the psychology of the individual 

But does not the difficulty lie precisely in the fact that our 
psychology is not sufficiently concerned with the subdivision 
of its subject in accordance with the lines laid down by 
nature? The representations which produce superstitions 
possess the common characteristic of being phantasmic. 
Psychology relates them to a general faculty, imagination. It 
will also place under the same heading the discoveries and 
inventions of science and the achievements of art. But why 
should we group together such different things, give them 
the same name and thus suggest the idea of a mutual relation- 
ship? We do so merely for convenience of speech and for the 
entirely negative reason that these various activities are neither 
perception, nor memory, nor logical operations of the mind. 
Let us then agree to group phantasmic representations 
separately, and to call " myth-making", or "fiction", the act 
which produces them. This will be a first step towards the 
solution of the problem. Let us now remark that psychology, 
when it splits up the activities of the mind into operations, 
does not take enough pains to find out the specific purpose 
of each of them. And this is precisely why the subdivision 
is all too often inadequate or artificial. Doubtless jjj^n call 
dream and philosophize, but first of all he must live; there is 
no doubt that our psychical structure originates in the neces- 
sity of preserving and developing social and individual life. 
If psychology does not make this consideration its guiding 
principle, it will inevitably distort its object. What should we 
say of a scientist who dealt with the anatomy of organs and 
the histology of tissues without troubling about their use? 
He would risk making erroneous divisions and erroneous 
groupings. If function is only comprehensible from structure, 
the main lines of a structure are not to be discerned without 
some idea of its function. We must not therefore consider 
the mind as being what it is "for no particular reason, just 
for the fun of the thing". We must not say: its structure being 
such, it has derived this or that^ advantage from it. The 
advantage it derives from its structure is, on the contrary, the 


factor which must have determined the latter; in any case 
that is the clue for any research. Let us take, then, in the 
vaguely and doubtless artificially defined realm of imagina- 
tion, the natural "cut" which we have called myth-making 
and see to what use it is naturally put. To this faculty are due 
the novel, the drama, mythology together with all that pre- 
ceded it. But then, there have not always been novelists and 
dramatists, whereas humanity has never subsisted with- 
out religion. Very likely, therefore, poetry and fantasy of 
all kinds appeared as extras, benefiting from the fact that 
the mind knew how to make myths, but religion is what 
accounts for the myth-making function: faculty standing to 
religion in the relationship of effect and not of cause. Some 
need, individual perhaps, social in any case, must have 
required from the mind this type of mental activity. Let us ask 
what this need was. It must be noted that fiction, when it has 
the power to move us, resembles an incipient hallucination: 
it can thwart our judgment and reason, which are the strictly 
intellectual faculties. Now what would nature have done, after 
creating intelligent beings, if she had wanted to guard against 
certain dangers of intellectual activity without compromising 
the future of intelligence? Observation supplies us with the 
answer. To-day, in the full efflorescence of scientific develop- 
ment, We see the finest arguments in the world come to grief 
in the face of a single experiment: nothing can resist facts. 
So that if intelligence was to be kept at the outset from sliding 
down a slope which was dangerous to the individual and 
society, it could only be by the statement of apparent facts, 
by the ghosts of facts; failing real experience, a counterfeit of, 
experience had to be conjured up. A fiction, if its image is 
vivid and insistent, may indeed masquerade as perception 
and in 'that way prevent or modify action. A systematically 
false experience, confronting the intelligence, may indeed stop 
it pushing too far the conclusions it deduces from a true 
'experience. It i$ in some such fashion that nature has pro- 
ceeded. And that being so, we should not be surprised to 
find that intelligence wajjpervaded, as soon as formed, by 
superstition, that an essentially intelligent being is naturally 


superstitious, and that intelligent creatures are the only 
superstitious beings. 

It is true that this raises new questions. We must en- 
quire more carefully what is the utility of the myth-making 
function, and what danger nature had to contend with. With- 
out exploring this point yet, we must note that the human mind 
may be in the right or in the wrong, but that in either case, 
whatever direction it has taken, it goes straight ahead: from 
one conclusion to another, from one analysis to another, it 
plunges deeper into error, just as it may proceed further and 
further along the path of truth. We are only acquainted with 
humanity as already evolved, for the "primitives" we observe 
to-day are as old as we are, and the documents upon which 
the history of religion works belong to a relatively recent past. 
1 So the immense variety of beliefs with which we have to deal 
is the result of a lengthy process of proliferation. From their 
absurdity or strangeness we may doubtless conclude that 
there is a certain tendency towards the strange or the absurd 
in the working of a certain function of the mind; but these 
characteristics are probably thus accentuated simply because 
the operation has gone so far: if we take into consideration 
the direction alone, we shall be less surprised at the irrational 
elements in the tendency, and we may be able to grasp its 
utility. Who knows indeed if the errors into which this 
tendency led are not the distortions, at the time beneficial to 
the species, of a truth destined to be later revealed to certain 
individuals? But this is not all. A second question arises, 
which must in fact be answered first: what is the origin of 
this tendency? Is it connected with other manifestations of 
life? We spoke of an intention of nature; it was a metaphor, 
as convenient in psychology as it is in biology; we thus stressed 
the fact that the contrivance with which we were dealing 
served the interests either of the individual or the species. 
But the expression is vague, and for the sake of clarity we 
should say that the tendency under consideration is an in- 
stinct, were it not that it is precisely in the place of an instinct 
that these phantasmic images arise in the mind. They play a 
part which might have devolved on instinct, and which would 


actually do so in a being devoid of intelligence. Let us say, 
for the time being, that it is a virtual instinct, meaning that 
at the extremity of another line of evolution, in insect societies, 
we find instinct automatically inducing a behaviour com- 
parable, in its utility, to the behaviour which is suggested to 
man, a being both intelligent and free, by these well-nigh 
hallucinatory images. But in thus alluding to divergent and 
complementary developments, which are supposed to have 
led, on the one hand, to real instincts, on the other to virtual 
instincts, are we not putting forward a specific view of the 
evolution of life? 

Such is indeed the wider problem raised by our second 
question. It was implicitly contained in the first. How is it 
possible to relate to a vital need those fictions which confront 
and sometimes thwart our intelligence, if we have not ascer- 
tained the fundamental demands of life? We shall find later 
this same problem again in a still more explicit form, when 
a question arises which we cannot avoid, the question of how 
religion has survived the danger which brought it into being. 
How, instead of dying out, it simply became transformed? 
Why does it still live on, though science has come to fill the 
gap, dangerous indeed, left between the form and the matter 
of intelligence? May it not be that underlying the need for 
stability, which life reveals in that stop, or rather that marking 
time on the same spot, which denotes the preservation of the 
species, there i^some demandjpr a forward movement, some 
remnant of an impuTse,"tp wit, a vital impetus? But the two 
first' questions' will' suffice for the present. They both bring 
us back to the considerations we have already submitted on 
the evolution of life. These considerations were by no means 
hypothetical, as some apparently have thought. In speaking 
of a "vital impetus" and a creative evolution, we were keeping 
as close as we could to actual experience. This is what many 
are* beginning to realize, since positive science, merely by 
abandoning certain theoretical ideas or giving them out as 
mere hypotheses, is drawing nearer to our views. In ap- 
propriating them, it would only be entering into its own 


Let us then go back over a few of the outstanding features 
of life, and emphasize the distinctly empirical character of our 
conception of the "vital impetus". We asked whether the 
phenomena of life - could be resolved into physical and 
chemical facts? When the physiologist affirms such a thing, 
he means, consciously or unconsciously, that the business of 
physiology is to bring out whatever is physical and chemical 
in the vital, that it is impossible to say when the search will 
end, and that, therefore, he must proceed as though the 
search were never to have an end; that this is the only way 
to go forward. He is thus only laying down the rules of a 
method; he is not stating a fact. Let us then keep to experi- 
ence: we shall say and more than one biologist acknowledges 
it that science is as far as ever from a physico-chemical 
explanation of life. That is what we stated, to begin with, 
when speaking of a vital impetus. Now, life being given 
as a fact, how are we to picture its evolution? Some may 
maintain that the passage from one species to another was 
accomplished by a series of variations, all of them accidental, 
being preserved by selection and fixed by heredity. But if we 
reflect on the enormous number of variations, co-ordinate 
with and complementary to one another, which must take 
place in order that the organism shall benefit by them or even 
merely not be injured, we wonder how each one of them, 
taken separately, can be preserved by selection and wait for 
others which are to complete it. By itself, one of these 
variations is more often than not useless; it may even hamper 
or paralyse the function. So that in invoking a combination 
of chance with chance, in attributing to no special cause the 
direction taken by life which is evolving, biology applies a 
priori the principle of economy, which finds favour with 
positive science, but by no means establishes a fact, and at 
once comes up against insurmountable difficulties. This in- 
adequacy of Darwinism is the second point we brought out 
when we spoke of the vital impetus: to a theory we opposed a 
fact, we pointed out that the evolution of life occurred in 
certain definite directions. Now, are these directions imposed 
on life by the conditions in which it evolves? This would 


amount to admitting that the modifications undergone by 
the, individual are handed down to his descendants, at least 
regularly enough to ensure, for instance, the gradual com- 
plication of an organ accomplishing the same function with 
ever greater precision. But the heredity of acquired charac- 
teristics is debatable, and, even supposing that it is observed, 
exceptional; once again it is a priori, and in order to meet 
the needs of the argument, that it is taken to be operating 
regularly. Let us attribute this regular transmissibility to 
the innate: we shall conform to experience and we shall 
say that it is not the mechanical action of external causes, 
but an inward impulse that passes from germ to germ through 
individuals, that carries life in a given direction, towards an 
ever higher complexity. Such is the third idea to be evoked by 
the image of the vital impetus. Let us go further. When one 
speaks of the progress of an organism or an organ adapting 
itself to more complex conditions, one means, more often 
than not, that the complexity of conditions imposes its form 
on life, as the mould does on the clay: thus alone, one says, 
is a mechanical, that is a scientific, explanation obtainable. 
But, after affording oneself the satisfaction of interpreting 
adaptation in general in this way, one reasons in each par- 
ticular case as if the adaptation were something quite different 
as indeed it is as if it were the original solution, found by 
life, of the problem set by external conditions. And this 
faculty of resolving problems is left unexplained. By intro- 
ducing at this point "impetus" we did not proffer an explan- 
ation either; but, instead of systematically rejecting it in 
general while resorting to it on the sly in each particular case, 
we brought out this mysterious character of the operation 
of life. But did we do nothing to fathom the mystery? If the 
marvellous co-ordination of the parts with the whole cannot 
be explained in terms of mechanics, yet it does not demand, 
in our opinion, to be treated as finality. The same thing 
which, seen from outside, can be decomposed into an infinity 
of parts co-ordinated with one another, may perhaps appear, 
if realized from inside, an undivided act: just as a movement 
of the hand, which we feel to be indivisible, is perceived from 


outside as a curve definable by an equation, that is to say, as 
a series of points infinite in number, adjacent one to the other, 
and all obeying one and the same law. In evoking the image 
of an impetus, we wished to suggest this fifth idea, and even 
something more: where our analysis, which remains out- 
side, finds positive elements in ever increasing numbers 
elements which strike us for that very reason as more and 
more marvellously co-ordinate with one another ^intuition, 
transferring itself to the inside, would be confronted not 
with factors that are being combined, but with obstacles 
that are being circumvented. An invisible hand thrust 
through a heap of iron filings would merely brush aside 
the resistance encountered, but the very simplicity of this 
act, seen from the point of view of the resistance, would 
appear as an alignment, made in a deliberate order, of the 
filings themselves. Now is there nothing to be said con- 
cerning this act and the resistance it encounters? If life 
cannot be resolved into physical and chemical facts, it oper- 
ates in the manner of a special cause, added on to what 
we ordinarily call matter, matter in this case being both an 
instrument and an obstacle. It divides what it defines. We 
may conjecture that a division of this kind is responsible for 
the multiplicity of the great lines of vital evolution. But we 
thereby obtain a suggestion as to the means of preparing and 
verifying the intuition we would fain have of life. If we see 
two or three big lines of evolution running freely forward, 
alongside other lines which end in a blind road, and if along 
each of these lines an essential characteristic develops mdre 
and more, we may conjecture that the vital impulse began 
by possessing these characteristics in a state of reciprocal 
implication: instinct and intelligence, which reach their cul- 
minating point at the extremities of the two principal lines 
of animal evolution, must therefore be taken one with the 
other, before their separation: not combined into one, but 
one in the beginning, instinct and intelligence being then 
mere views, taken from two different points, of that simple 
reality. Such are, since we have begun to number them, the 
sixth, seventh and eighth ideas which are to be evoked by the 


ideaof avital impetus. And even then we have not mentioned, 
save perhaps by implication, the essential one, namely the 
impossibility of forecasting the forms which life creates in 
their entirety by discontinuous leaps, all along the lines of 
its evolution. Whether you embrace the doctrine of pure 
mechanism or that of pure finality, in either case the creations 
of life are supposed to be predetermined, the future being 
deducible from the present by a calculation, or designed 
within it as an idea, time being thus unavailing. Pure 
experience suggests nothing of the sort. "Neither impul- 
sion nor attraction" seems to be its motto. Now it is just 
something of this kind that an impetus can suggest, whilst 
it can also, by the indivisibility of what is felt internally and 
the divisibility to infinity of what is externally perceived, 
give the idea of that real and effective duration which is the 
essential attribute of life. Such were the ideas we con- 
densed into the image of the "vital impetus". To neglect 
them, as has been too often done, is to find oneself con- 
fronted by an empty concept, like that of the pure "will to 
live", and by a barren theory of metaphysics. By taking them 
into account, we have an idea full of matter, obtained empiric- 
ally, capable of guiding our investigations, which will broadly 
sum up what we know of the vital process and will also bring 
out what is still unknown. 

From this standpoint, evolution appears as a series of 
sudden leaps, and the variation constituting the new species 
as made up of a multitude of differences completing one 
another, and emerging all together in the organism formed 
from the germ. To use again the same comparison, it is like 
the sudden movement of the hand plunged among the iron 
filings and causing an instantaneous readjustment of them all. 
Now, if the transformation takes place in various representa- 
tives of the same species, it may not be equally successful in all 
cases. It may well be that the appearance of the human species 
was due to several leaps in the same direction, taking place 
here and there in a previous species and thus resulting in some- 
what different types of humanity; each type would then corre- 
spond to a successful attempt, in the sense that the multiple 


variations characterising each one are perfectly co-ordinate 
with one another; but they might not be equal in quality, 
the leaps not having covered the same distance in every case. 
They, none the less, might have all taken place in the same 
direction. We could say, whilst refraining from fixing any 
anthropomorphic sense to the word, that they correspond to 
one and the same intention of life. 

Now, whether the human species sprang or not from one 
stock, whether we have to deal with a single type of humanity 
or with several, which cannot be reduced to a common 
denominator, it is of little consequence; mankind always pre- 
sents two essential characteristics, intelligence and sociability. 
But, from our standpoint, these features take on a special 
meaning. They are no longer a matter for the psychologist 
and the sociologist only. They call, first of all, for a bio- 
logical interpretation. Intelligence and sociability must be 
given their proper place back in the general evolution of 

To take sociability first, we find it in its finished form at the 
two culminating points of evolution, in the hymenopterous 
insects, such as the ants and bees, and in man. As a mere 
tendency, it is found everywhere in nature. Some biologists 
have gone so far as to say that the individual is already a 
society: the protozoa, formed from a single cell, it is suggested, 
constituted aggregates which, coming together in their turn, 
produced aggregates of aggregates; and thus the most widely 
differentiated organisms originated in the associations of 
elementary organisms barely differentiated from one another. 
This is obviously an exaggeration; "polyzoism" is an excep- 
tional and abnormal occurrence. But it is none the less a fact 
that things take place in a higher organism as if the cells had 
joined together to share the work between them. The bent 
towards the social form, found in so many species, is therefore 
evident in the very structure of any of its members. But, once 
more, this is merely a tendency; and if we wish to deal with 
fully complete societies, clear-cut organizations of distinct 
individuals, we must take the two perfect types of association 
represented by a society of insects and a human society, the 


one immutable, 1 the other subject to change; the one instinc- 
tive, the other intelligent; the first similar to an organism 
whose elements only exist in the interest of the whole, the 
second leaving so wide a margin to the individual that we 
cannot tell whether the organism was made for them or they 
for the organism. Of the two conditions laid down by Comte, 
"order" and "progress", the insect chose order only, whereas 
the aim of at least a section of humanity is progress, some- 
times exclusive of order, and always due to individual 
initiative. These two finished types of social life are then the 
counterpart of each other and mutually complementary. But 
the same could be said of instinct and intelligence, which 
characterize them respectively. When given their place again 
in the evolution of life, they appear, as it were, two divergent 
and complementary activities. 

We shall not go over again what we have stated in a former 
work. Let us merely recall the fact that life is a certain effort 
to obtain certain things from raw matter, and that instinct 
and intelligence, taken in their finished state, are two distinct 
means of utilizing a tool for this object; in the first case, the 
tool is part of the living creature; in the other, it is an in- 
organic instrument which man has had to invent, make and 
learn to handle. Grant the fact of utilization, still more the 
fact of fabrication, and then, most of all, the fact of invention, 
and you will find one after the other all the elements of 
intelligence, for its purpose explains its structure. But we 
must not forget that there still hangs round the edge of in- 
telligence a fringe of instinct, and that in the depths of 
instinct there still survive gleams of intelligence. We may 
conjecture that they were originally involved in one another 
and that, if we went far enough back into the past, we should 
find instincts that are nearer to intelligence than those of our 
insects, and an intelligence closer to instinct than that of our 
vertebrates. The two activities, which began by mutual inter- 
penetration, had to part company in order to grow; but some- 

1 It goes without saying that the immutability is not absolute but 
essential. It exists in principle, but in fact admits of variations on the 
theme once posited. 


thing of the one has remained attached to the other. Indeed 
the same thing could be said of all the important manifesta- 
tions of life. In most cases each reveals, frequently in a 
rudimentary, latent, or virtual state, the essential character- 
istics of most of the 'other manifestations. 

If we study, then, at the terminal point of one of the great 
efforts of nature, these essentially intelligent and partially 
free groups of beings which constitute human societies, we 
must not lose sight of the other terminal point of evolution, 
the societies swayed by pure instinct, in which the individual 
blindly serves the interests of the community. This com- 
parison will never justify firm conclusions; but it may suggest 
interpretations. If societies are to be found at the two 
principal terminal points of the evolutionary movement, and 
if the individual organism is constructed on a plan which 
foreshadows that on which societies are organized, this means 
that life is a co-ordination of disciplined elements among 
which the work is divided; in fact, that the social underlies 
the vital. If, in those societies with which individual organ- 
isms are already identifiable, the constituent part must be 
ready to sacrifice itself for the whole, if this is still so in 
those societies of societies which form, at the end of one 
of the two great lines of evolution, the hive and the ant- 
hill, and lastly, if this result is obtained by instinct which 
is but an extension of nature's work of organization, this 
means that nature is more concerned with society than with 
the individual. If that is no longer the case with man, this 
means that the inventive effort manifested throughout the 
domain of life by the creation of new species has found in 
humanity alone the means of continuing its activity through 
individuals, on whom there has devolved, along with in- 
telligence, the faculty of initiative, independence and liberty. 
If intelligence now threatens to break up social cohesion 
at certain points, arid assuming that society is to go on, 
there must be a counterpoise, at these points, to intelli- 
gence. If this counterpoise cannot be instinct itself, for the 
very reason that its place has been taken by intelligence, the 
same effect must be produced by a virtuality of instinct, or, if 


you prefer it, by the residue of instinct which survives on the 
fringe of intelligence: it cannot exercise direct action, but, 
since intelligence works on representations, it will call up 
"imaginary" ones, which will hold their own against the 
representation of reality and will succeed, through the agency 
of intelligence itself, in counteracting the work of intelli- 
gence. This would be the explanation of the myth-making 
faculty. Though indeed it plays a social role, it must also serve 
the individual, whom as often as not it is to the interest 
of society to favour. We may therefore presume that in its 
original and elementary form it brings added strength to the 
individual. But before coming to the second point, let us 
consider the first. 

Among the facts collected by "psychical research", we 
noticed some years ago the following case. A lady was on the 
upper floor of an hotel. As she wanted to go downstairs, she 
walked out on to the landing. The gate provided for the lift 
happened to be open. As the gate was so contrived as to be 
open only if the lift were stopped at that floor, she naturally 
thought the lift was there and rushed forward to take it. All of 
a sudden she felt herself flung backwards; the man entrusted 
with the working of the lift had just appeared and was pushing 
her back on to the landing. At this point she emerged from 
her fit of abstraction. She was amazed to see that neither man 
nor lift were there. The mechanism being out of order, it was 
possible for the gate to be open at her floor, though the lift 
wsts still down below. She had been about to fling herself into 
the gaping void ; a miraculous hallucination had saved her 
life. Need we say that the miracle is easily explained? The 
lady had reasoned correctly on a real fact, for the gate was 
really open and therefore the lift should have been at that 
floor. The mere sight of the empty shaft would have been 
enough to show her her mistake; but it would have been too 
late, the action consequent upon the correct reasoning being 
already under way. It was then that the instinctive or som- 
nambulistic self, which underlies the reasoning personality, 
came into action. It had seen the danger, it had to act at once. 


Instantly it had thrown her body backwards, at the same time 
inducing in a flash the fictitious, hallucinatory perception the 
best fitted to evoke and explain the apparently unjustified 

Let us imagine then a primitive humanity and rudimentary 
societies. It would be a simple matter for nature to ensure the 
requisite cohesion within the groups; she would only have to 
endow man with the appropriate instincts. This she did for 
the bee-hive and the ant-hill. And with complete success: 
here the individual lives for the community alone. Indeed her 
task was an easy one, since she only had to follow her usual 
method; instinct is indeed coextensive with life, and social 
instinct, as found in insects, is nothing more than the spirit 
of subordination and co-ordination animating the cells and 
tissues and organs of all living bodies. But it is no longer 
towards a mere development of instinct, it is towards an ex- 
pansion of intelligence, that the vital impulse of the verte- 
brate tends. When the end of the movement is attained in 
man, instinct is not abolished, it is eclipsed; all that remains 
of it is a dim penumbra about the centre, now fully illumin- 
ated or rather in itself luminous, to wit, intelligence. Hence- 
forth reflexion will enable the individual to invent, and 
society to progress. But if society is to progress, it must first 
of all be able to maintain itself. Invention means initiative, 
and an appeal to individual initiative straightaway involves 
the risk of endangering social discipline. What if the in- 
dividual diverts his reflexion from the object for which it was 
designed, I mean from the task to be performed, the improve- 
ment or renovation to be undertaken, and focuses it on 
himself, on the constraint imposed on him by social life, on 
the sacrifice he makes to the community? If he were a slave 
of instinct, like the ant and the bee, he would remain intent 
on the purely external object to be attained; he would have 
automatically, somnambulistically, worked for the species. 
Endowed with intelligence, roused to thought, he will turn 
to himself and think only of leading a pleasant life. Formal 
reasoning would doubtless show him that he furthers his own 
interest by promoting the happiness of others; but it takes 


centuries of culture to produce a utilitarian such as John 
Stuart Mill, and Stuart Mill has not convinced all philos- 
ophers, let alone the mass of mankind. The truth is that 
intelligence would counsel egoism first. The intelligent being 
will rush in that direction if there is nothing to stop him. But 
nature is on the watch. Just now, before the open gate a 
guardian appeared, to bar the way and drive back the tres- 
passer. So now some protective deity of the city will be there 
to forbid, threaten, punish. Intelligence is guided in fact by 
present perceptions or by that more or less vivid residue of 
perception called recollection. Since instinct no longer exists 
except as a mere vestige or virtuality, since it is not strong 
enough to incite to action or prevent it, it must arouse an 
illusory perception, or at least a counterfeit of recollection so 
clear and striking that intelligence will come to a decision 
accordingly. Looked at from this first point of view, religion is 
then a defensive reaction of nature against the dissolvent power 
of intelligence. 

But this only gives us a figurative symbolization of what 
actually occurs. For the sake of greater clearness, we have 
supposed in society a sudden revolt of the individual, and in 
the individual imagination the sudden apparition of a god to 
prevent or forbid. Things doubtless take this dramatic form 
at given times and for a certain period in a humanity already 
well along the road to civilization. But reality only develops 
towards the precision of drama by intensification of the 
essential and elimination of the superfluous. Indeed in 
human groups, just as they may have come from the hands of 
nature, the distinction between what does and what does not 
affect the cohesion of the group is not so clear, the con- 
sequences of an act accomplished by the individual do not 
appear so strictly individual, the force of inhibition which 
arises at the very instant when the act is on the point of being 
accomplished is not so completely incarnated in a person. 
Let us dwell on these three points. 

In societies such as ours there are customs and laws. The 
laws are doubtless often stabilized customs: but a custom 
only becomes a law when it is of particular, recognizable and 


definable value; then it stands out from among the others. 
The distinction is therefore clear between the essential and 
the accidental: we have, on the one hand, what is merely 
custom, on the other, what is legal, or even moral, obligation. 
This cannot be so in less advanced societies where we find 
only customs, some of them justified by a real need, most of 
them due to mere accident, or to an irrational extension of 
the former. Here all customary things are perforce obligatory, 
since social solidarity, not being condensed into laws, and still 
less into principles, is diluted into an acceptance by all and 
sundry of these customs. Everything habitual to the members 
of the group, everything that society expects from individuals, 
isjbound to take on a religious character, jf it is true that the 
observance of custom, and that alone, attaches man to other 
men, and thus detaches him from himself. Let us note, by the 
way, that the question of the relation between morality and 
religion is thus greatly simplified when we consider rudiment- 
ary societies. Primitive religions can only be called non- 
moral, or indifferent to morality, if we take religion as it was 
in the beginning and compare it with morality such as it 
became later on. Originally the whole of morality is custom; 
and as religion forbids any departure from custom, morality 
is coextensive with religion. It would therefore be vain to 
raise the objection that religious prohibitions have not always 
dealt with things that strike us to-day as immoral or anti- 
social. Primitive religion, taken from our first standpoint, is 
a precaution against the danger man runs, as soon as he thinks 
at all, of thinking of himself alone. It is therefore, as we stated 
above, a defensive reaction of nature against intelligence. 

On the other hand, the idea of individual regpnn&;hility is 
by no means so simple as might be supposed. It implies 
a relativelY_absJtract representation of the activity of the,in- 
dividual, which is taken to be independent because it has 
been isolated from social, activity* But the solidarity between 
the membefsTof Hie group is such at first that all are bound to 
feel that they share to some degree in the lapse of any single 
one, at least in such cases as they consider serious: moral evil, 
if we can use the term at this stage, is regarded much the 


same as a physical evil spreading from one person to another, 
until it contaminates the whole society. So that, if an avenging 
power does arise, it will be to castigate society as a whole, 
without making its weight felt only at the spot from which 
the evil sprang: the picture of Justice pursuing the criminal 
is relatively modern, and we have simplified matters too much 
in showing the individual checked, on the verge of breaking 
the social bond, by the religious fear of a punishment which 
would fall on him alone, ft is none the less true that things 
tend to assume this form, and that they assume it more and 
more distinctly as religion, determining its own features, 
becomes more frankly mythological. The myth will indeed 
always bear traces of its origin; it will never clearly distinguish 
between the physical order and the moral or social order, 
between intentional orderliness due to the obedience of all to 
a law and the orderliness manifested in the course of nature. 
Themis, goddess of human justice, is the mother of the 
Seasons ('lpai) and of A/*??, who represents the physical 
law as well as the moral law. Even to-day we have hardly rid 
ourselves of this confusion; traces of it linger in our language. 
Morals and morality, regularity and regulation, uniformity 
de facto and uniformity dejure are in each case both expressed 
in much the same way. Does not the word "order" signify 
both system and command? 

Lastly, we spoke of a god, arising tp prohibit, to prevent, to 
punish* That means presumably that the moral force, from 
which the resistance springs, and even, if need be, the venge- 
ance, is incarnated in a person. That it thus tends naturally 
to assume, in the eyes of man, a human form, there is no 
doubt. But if mythology is a product of nature, it is a late 
product, like flower-bearing plants, and the beginnings of 
religion were more modest. A careful study of what occurs in 
our consciousness shows us that an intentional resistance, and 
even a vengeance, at first strike us as self-sufficient entities; 
for them to be clothed with a definite body, like that of a 
vigilant and avenging deity, is already a luxury; the myth- 
making function of the mind doubtless only works with 
artistic pleasure on conceptions thus arrayed, but it does not 


form them all at once; it begins by taking them in their 
nakedness. We shall have to emphasize this point, which has 
not sufficiently engaged the attention of psychologists. There 
is no proof that the. child who knocks his head against the 
table, and hits back, looks on the table as a person. Indeed 
this interpretation is far from being accepted by all psychol- 
ogists to-day. But in this case, after attributing too much to 
mythological explanation, they now do not go far enough 
when they suppose that the child simply gives way to an 
impulse to hit, caused by anger. The truth is that between the 
identification of the table with a person and the perception 
of the table as an inanimate object, there lies an intermediate 
representation which is neither that of a thing nor of a 
person; it is the image of the act accomplished by the table 
in striking, or, better still, the image of the act of striking, 
bringing with it like luggage borne on its back the table 
which stands behind. The act of striking is an element of 
personality, but not yet a complete personality. The fencer 
who sees the button of his adversary's foil coming at him 
knows that it is the movement of the point which has drawn 
the foil forward, that it is the foil that has drawn the arm for- 
ward, that it is the arm that stretched out the body by stretch- 
ing out itself: he can only lunge properly, and give a direct 
thrust instantaneously, from the time he feels things in this 
order. To reverse their order is to reconstruct, and so to 
philosophize: in any case it is bringing to light the implicit, 
instead of being content with what action pure and simple 
requires, with what is directly perceived and really primitive. 
When we read a signboard "Trespassers will be prosecuted", 
we begin by perceiving the prohibition; it stands out clearly; it 
is only behind it, in the shadow, that we have a vision of the 
constable lying in wait to report us. In the same way, the- 
the social order first stand out, just 
e they are already more than mere words; 

they resist* and press, and push;, hut the divinity wJxo forbids, 
and whojyas screened by them, will only appear later, as the 
work of the myth-making function becomes complete. We 
must not be surprised, therefore, if we meet with prohibitions 


in uncivilized communities, which are semi-physical, semi- 
moral restraints on certain individual acts; tl^object ^occupy- 
ing J;l^jGfi&&^ a JkjjJL ^ res * st ? n ?? w ^ ke ca N e ^ Boffi 
"sacred" and "4aagesau&"r once these two definite ideas are 
constituted, and when the distinction is clearly made between 
a physical force of repulsion and a moral inhibition; up till 
then, it possesses the two properties fused into one; it istaboo^ 
to use the Polynesian term made familiar to us by tKe science 
of religions. Did primitive humanity conceive the taboo in 
the same way as the "primitive races'* of to-day? Let us first 
agree on the meaning of the words. There would be no such 
thing as primitive humanity, if the species had been formed 
by imperceptible transitions; at no given moment would man 
have emerged from the animal state; but this is an arbitrary 
hypothesis, which comes up against so many improbabilities 
and rests on such ambiguities that we believe it to be unten- 
able; 1 by following the clue of facts and analogies, we are far 
more likely to arrive at a discontinuous evolution, proceeding by 
bounds, obtaining at each stopping-place a combination, per- 
fect of its kind, like the shifting figures that follow one another 
in a kaleidoscope; there is then a type of primitive humanity, 
even though the human species may have been formed by 
various leaps converging from various points and not all 
coming equally near to a realization of the type. On the other 
hand, the primitive soul would escape us entirely to-day if 
there had been hereditary transmission of acquired habits. 
Our moral nature, taken in its raw state, would then differ 
radically from that of our remotest ancestors. But again it is 
under the influence of preconceived ideas, and to satisfy the 
demands of a theory, that one speaks of hereditary habit and, 
above all, that one believes in a transmission regular enough 
to bring about a transformation. The truth is that, if civiliza- 
tion has profoundly modified man, it is by accumulating in 
his social surroundings, as in a reservoir, the habits and 
knowledge which society pours into the individual at each 
new generation. Scratch the, surface, aboiish-^verything we 
owe to an education which is perpetual and unceasing, and 

See Creative Evolution, chaps, i. and ii. 


you find in the depth of our nature primitive humanity, or 
something very near it. Are the "primitive" peoples we 
pfcserve to-day the image of that humanity? It is hardly prob- 
Jable, since nature is. overlaid, in their case as well, by a layer 
iof habits which the social surroundings have preserved in 
order to deposit them in each individual. But there is reason 
to believe that this JtayerJ_s not so thick as in civilized man, 
and that it allows nature to show more clearly through it. 
The multiplication of habits throughout the ages must in 
their case have occurred in a different way, along the surface, 
by passing from one of them to another simply because 
they looked alike, or on account of some other accidental 
cause, whereas the progress of technical skill, of knowledge, 
in a word of civilization, takes place over fairly considerable 
periods in one and the same direction, vertically, by super- 
imposed or anastomotic variations, resulting therefore in deep 
transformations, and not merely in surface complications. 
Hence, it is easy to see how far we may regard as absolutely 
primitive the notion of taboo which we find among the 
"primitive" peoples of to-day. Even supposing that it some- 
how appeared in a humanity fresh from the hands of nature, 
it did not apply to the same things as now, nor, probably, to 
so many things. Each taboo must have been a prohibition in 
which society had a well-defined interest. Irrational from the 
point of view of the individual, since it suddenly checked 
intelligent activity without resorting to intelligence, it was 
rational inasmuch as it was in the interests of the society 
and the species. Hence, sexual intercourse, for example, 
was satisfactorily regulated by taboos. But precisely because 
no appeal had been made to individual intelligence, because 
the object was even to thwart it, intelligence, seizing upon 
the idea of taboo, must have extended it arbitrarily in all 
directions, by chance association of ideas, without troubling 
about what we might calljthe.,Qriginal intention of nature. 
Thus, admitting that taboo has always been what it is to-day, 
it probably did not apply to so many things, nor lead to such 
absurd consequences. But has it kept its original form? The 
intelUgenc^ol/'prinutiys" peoples is not essentially different 


from our own; it must have a tendency, like ours, to convert 
the dynamic into the static, and solidify actions into things. 
We may presume then that, under its influence, the prohibi- 
tions have taken up their abode inside the things to which 
they applied: they were nothing but resistances opposed to 
tendencies, but, as a tendency has for the most part an 
object, it was from the object, and as if dwelling within it, 
that the resistance appeared to come, having become in this 
way an attribute of its substance. In stagnant societies this 
solidification is an accomplished fact. It was perhaps less 
complete, it was in any case temporary, in what one might 
call mobile societies, where intelligence was bound in the end 
to perceive behind the prohibition a person. 

We have been dealing with the first function of religion, 
that jwhich directly_concernsjocial pregfirv^tmn Now let us 
come to the other. Once more we shall see it working for the 
good of society, but indirectly, by stimulating and guiding 
individual activities. We shall indeed find its work more 
complex, and we shall be obliged to catalogue the forms it 
takes. But there is no danger of losing our way in this search, 
for we have the clue in our hands. We must always remember 
that the sphere of life is essentially that of instinct; that along 
a certain line of evolution instinct has to some extent made 
room for intelligence; that this may lead to a disturbance of 
life; that nature, in such circumstances, has no other resource 
than to set up intelligence against intelligence. The intellec- 
tual representation which thus restores the balance to nature's 
advantage is of a religious order. Let us take the simplest case 

Animals do not know that they must die. Doubtless some 
of them make the distinction between the living and the 
dead; we mean by this that the sight of a dead creature and 
of a living one does not produce in them the same reactions, 
the same movements, the same attitudes; this does not imply 
that they have a general idea of death, any more than they 
have of life, or any general idea whatsoever, at least in the 
sense of a mental picture and not simply a movement of the 
body. An animal will "sham dead" to escape from an enemy; 


but it is we who define his attitude thus; so far as he is con- 
cerned, he does not stir because he feels that by moving 
he would excite or again attract attention and invite attack, 
because movement evokes movement. Cases of animal suicide 
have been reported, it is true: even admitting this as an actual 
fact, there is a vast difference between doing what must 
result in death and knowing that the result is going to be 
death; to perform an action, even one that is well-contrived 
and appropriate, is one thing, to forecast the outcome of it 
is another. But even suppose that an animal has the notion of 
death. He certainly does not realize that he is bound to die, 
that he must die a natural death if he does not die a violent 
one. This would require a series of observations of other 
animals, then a synthesis, lastly, a process of generalization 
which already savours of science. Even supposing that the 
animal could contrive to make any such effort, it would be 
for something worth while; now nothing could be more useless 
to him than to know that he must die. It is more to his interest 
not to know it. But man knows he will die. All other living 
creatures, clinging to life, are simply carried along by its im- 
petus. Although they do not contemplate themselves sub specie 
aeterniy their confidence, being a perpetual encroachment of the 
present on the future, is the translation of such contempla- 
tion into feeling. But with man reflexion appears, and conse- 
quently the faculty of observing with no view to immediate 
utility, of comparing with one another observations that are 
temporarily disinterested, in short, of deducing and general- 
izing. Seeing that every living thing about him ends by dying, 
he is convinced that he will die too. Nature, in endowing 
him with intelligence, must inevitably lead him to this con- 
clusion. But this conviction cuts athwart the forward move- 
ment of nature. If the impetus of life turns all other living 
creatures away from the image of death, so the thought of 
death must slow down in man the movement of life. It may 
later find its appropriate setting in a philosophy which ends 
in raising humanity above its own level and increasing its 
powers of action. But it is at first a depressing thought, and 
would be more depressing still, if man, while certain that he 


must die, were not ignorant of the date of his death. Death 
is indeed bound to come, but as we are constantly becoming 
aware that it does not come, the continued repetition of the 
negative experience condenses into a barely conscious doubt, 
which diminishes the effect of the reasoned certainty. It is 
none the less true that the certainty of death, arising at the 
same time as reflexion in a world of living creatures con- 
structed to think only of living, runs counter to nature's 
intention. Nature, then, looks as if it is going to stumble over 
the obstacle which she has placed on her own path. But she 
recovers herself at once. To the idea of inevitable death she 
opposes the image of a continuation of life after death; this 
image, flung by her into the field of intelligence, where the 
idea of death has just become installed, straightens every- 
thing out again. 1 This neutralizing of the idea by the image 
simply expresses the equilibrium of nature, saving herself 
from slipping. We are therefore again confronted here with 
that particular interplay of images and ideas which we found , 
characteristic of religion in its beginnings. Looked at from 
this second standpoint, religion is a defensive reaction of nature 
against the representation , by intelligence, of the inevitability 
of death. 

In this reaction society is as much concerned as the 
individual. Not only because it profits from the individual 
effort, and because this effort has a more far-reaching effect 
when the idea of an ending does not intervene to thwart its 
impetus, but also and above all because society itself needs 
stability and duration. A society already civilized is supported 
by laws, by institutions, even by buildings constructed to 
defy the ravages of time; but punitive societies. are simply 
"built up of human beings": what would become of their 
authority if people did not believe in the enduring character of 
the individualities of which they are composed? It is therefore 
essential that the dead should remain present. Ancestor- 

1 It goes without saying that the image is hallucinatory only in the 
shape it assumes in the eyes of primitive man. As regards the general 
question of survival, we have stated our ideas in former works; we shall 
recur to them in the present book. See Chapter III. pp. 225 sqq. and 
Chapter IV. p. 273-274. 


worship will come later. The dead will then be closer to 
gods. But for this to happen there must be gods, at least in 
embryo; there must be a definite form of worship; the mind 
must have deliberately turned towards mythology. In its 
beginning, intelligence simply sees the dead as mingling with 
the living in a society to which they can still do good or ill. 
In what form does it conceive their survival? We must not 
forget that we are searching in the depths of the soul, by 
means of introspection, for the constituent elements of primi- 
tive religion. It may be that no single one of these elements 
has ever manifested itself externally in an unadulterated state, 
that it would have immediately come up against simple 
elements, of the same origin, with which it will have amal- 
gamated, or it may even have been seized upon, either alone 
or with others, to be used as raw material for the never- 
ending work of the myth-making function. Thus there are in 
existence certain themes, some simple, some complex, sup- 
plied by nature; and, on the other hand, we have the countless 
variations played upon them by human fancy. To these 
themes doubtless may be traced back the fundamental beliefs 
met with almost everywhere by the science of religions. As 
to the variations on the themes, they are the myths and even 
the theoretical conceptions, with their endless diversifications 
according to time and place. There is no question but that 
the simple theme we have just indicated combines immediately 
with others to produce, prior to the myths and the theories, 
the primitive representation of the soul. But has it any definite 
shape outside this combination? If the question arises, it is 
because our present-day idea of a soul living on after the 
body overlays the image, which presents itself to the im- 
mediate consciousness, of the body able to live on after its 
death. Yet this image does exist, and it takes but a slight 
effort to recall it. It is nothing more than the visual image of 
the body detached from the tactile image. We have got into 
the habit of considering the first as inseparable from the 
second, as a shadow or effect of the latter. The progress of 
knowledge is all in that direction. For contemporary science 
the body is essentially what it is to the touch; it has a definite 


form and dimension, independent of ourselves; it occupies 
a given position in space and cannot change it without taking 
time to occupy successively the intervening positions; the 
visual image of it would in that case be a phenomenon whose 
variations we must constantly rectify by recourse to the 
tactile image; the latter would be the thing itself, the other 
would merely indicate its presence. But the immediate 
impression is nothing of the kind. A mind not on its guard 
will put the visual image and the tactile image on the same 
plane, will attribute to them the same reality, and will 
assume ^them to be relatively independent of one another. 
The "primitive" man has only to stoop over a pool to see his 
body just as it really appears, detached from the tactile body. 
Of course the body he can touch is also a body he can see; 
this proves that the outer envelope of the body, which con- 
stitutes the seen body, can become dual and that one of the 
two semblances stays with the tactile body. But the fact 
remains that there is a body which is detachable from the one 
he can touch, a mere shell of a body, devoid of weight, which 
has moved in a trice to the place where he sees it. There is 
doubtless nothing about that body to incline us to believe 
that it lives on after death. But if we begin by laying down 
the principle that there must be something that does live on, 
it will obviously be that body and not the other, for the body 
we can touch is still present, it lies motionless and speedily 
decays, whereas the visible envelope may have slipped away 
somewhere or other and remained alive. The idea that men 
live on as shades or phantoms is therefore quite natural. It 
must have preceded, we believe, the more elaborate idea of 
a principle breathing life into the body; this 'breath itself 
has gradually become spiritualized into the soul. It is true 
that the ghostly envelope of the body seems incapable, by 
itself, of exerting a pressure on human events, and yet it 
must exert one, since it is the yearning after continued 
action that has led to the belief in an after-life. But here a 
new element supervenes. 

We shall not yet define this other elementary tendency. It 
is as natural as the two preceeding ones. It is likewise a 


defensive reaction of nature. We shall have to be enquiring 
whence it comes. For the present we shall only consider what 
comes of it. It becomes in the end the representation of a 
force diffused throughout the whole of nature and distributed 
among individual objects and beings. In the science of 
religions this emanation is generally reported to be primitive. 
We hear of the Polynesian mana, whose counterpart is found 
elsewhere under different names: the wakanda of the Sioux, 
the arenda of the Iroquois, the pantang of the Malays, etc. 
According to some, the mana is a universal principle of life, 
constituting in particular, to use our own language, the sub- 
stance of souls. According to others, it is rather a new force 
supervening, such as the soul, or indeed anything else, might 
well assimilate, but which does not belong essentially to the 
soul. Durkheim, who apparently reasons along the first hypo- 
thesis, holds that the mana supplies the totemic principle by 
which the members of the clan commune together; the soul 
is thus regarded as being a direct individualization of the 
"totem" and to share in the mana through this agency. It is 
not our business to decide between these different inter- 
pretations. Speaking generally, we hesitate to consider as 
primitive, meaning natural, a notion which we should not 
to-day form naturally. We are of the opinion that what was 
once primitive has not ceased to be so, even though an effort 
of self-scrutiny may be necessary to re-discover it. But in 
whatever shape we take this mental image which we are now 
considering, we shall have no objection to admitting that the 
idea of a source of power upon which animate beings, artd 
even a considerable number of inanimate objects, can draw, 
is one of the first ideas the mind encounters when following 
a certain tendency, a natural and primary one, which we shall 
define a little further on. Let us then take this for granted. 
Man is now provided with what he will call later a soul. 
Will this soul survive the body? There is no reason to suppose 
so if we consider the soul alone. There is no reason to believe 
that a power such as the mana should last longer than the 
body in which it dwells. But if we have started by assuming 
the principle that the ghostly form of the body persists, there 


is nothing to prevent our also leaving in it the principle which 
endowed the body with the strength to act. The result will 
be an active and effective shade capable of influencing 
human events. Such seems indeed to be the primitive con- 
ception of survival. 

The influence thus exerted would not, indeed, be great, 
if it were not that the soul-idea unites with the spirit-idea. 
This too comes from another natural tendency which we 
shall also have to define. Let us take it also for granted and 
note that exchanges will occur between the two ideas. The 
spirits supposed to be present everywhere in nature would 
not so closely resemble the human form if souls were not 
already depicted in this shape. On their side, the souls detached 
from the body would be without influence on natural pheno- 
mena if they were not of the same order as the spirits and 
more or less capable of taking their place among them. The 
dead are then going to become persons to be reckoned with. 
They can do harm. They may do good. They have at their 
disposal, up to a certain point, what we call the forces of 
nature. In both a literal and a figurative sense they cause the 

rain and the fine weather. People will eschew what might 

n WH r*i'f**"'* a ''-' v ~ """"~~"- *"*- . - ** 

irritate them. They will spare no pains to secure their con- 
fidence. They will think of countless ways of winning them 
6ver, of buying their favour, even of outwitting them. Once 
started on this road, there is hardly any absurdity mto wluch 
intelligence may not stumble. The myth-making function 
\v6rks well enough by itself alone: what will it not do when 
it is spurred on by fear and necessity! To avert a danger or 
to secure a favour the living are ready to offer anything they 
fancy the dead man may want. They will go so far as the 
cutting off of heads, if that may be pleasing in his sight. 
Missionary stories are full of detailed accounts of such things. 
Childish and monstrous indeed, there the list of similar 
practices indulged in by human stupidity is interminable. 
Looking at them, and at them only, we should be tempted 
to abominate humanity. But we must not forget that the 
primitives of to-day or of yesterday have lived as many 
centuries as we have, have had plenty of time to exaggerate 


and to aggravate, as it were, the possible irrationalities con- 
tained in elementary tendencies, natural enough though they 
be. The true primitives were probably more reasonable, if 
they kept to the tendency and its immediate effects. Every- 
thing changes, and, as we have said above, the change will 
take place in breadth if not in depth. There are societies 
which progress probably those on whom unfavourable con- 
ditions of life have forced a certain effort to live, and which 
have then consented, at rare intervals, to increase their effort 
in order to follow a pioneer, an inventor, a man of genius. 
The change is here an increase of intensity; the direction 
remains relatively unchanged; the progress is towards an 
ever higher efficiency. There are, on the other hand, societies 
that keep to their original level, which is inevitably somewhat 
low. As, nevertheless, they do change, there takes place within 
them not that intensification which would be a qualitative 
progress, but a multiplication or an exaggeration of the 
primitive state of things: invention, if we can still use the 
word, no longer requires an effort. From a belief answering 
to a certain need they have passed to some new belief which 
resembles the former outwardly, which accentuates one or 
another of its superficial characteristics, but which no longer 
serves any purpose. Thenceforth, marking time, they cease- 
lessly pile up additions and amplifications. Through the 
double effect of repetition and exaggeration the irrational 
passes into the realm of the absurd, and the strange into the 
realm of the monstrous. These successive extensions must also 
have been due to individuals; but here there was no longer any 
need for intellectual superiority to invent, or to accept the in- 
vention. The logic of absurdity was enough, that logic which 
leads the mind ever further and further astray towards wilder 
and wilder consequences, when it starts out from a strange idea 
without relating it to sources which could explain its strange- 
ness and check its proliferation. We have all come across 
one of those very united, self-satisfied families, who keep 
themselves to themselves, because they are shy or super- 
cilious. It is not unusual to notice certain quaint habits among 
them, aversions or superstitions, which might become serious 


if they were to go on fermenting in a closed vessel. Each one 
of these singularities has its particular origin. It was some 
idea which occurred to one or another of the family, and which 
the others have taken on trust. It may be a walk they took 
one Sunday and took again the next Sunday, and which then 
became a settled thing every Sunday of the year: if they 
should have the misfortune to miss it once, goodness knows 
what would happen. In order to repeat, to imitate, to follow 
blindly, we have only to relax; it is criticism that demands an 
effort. Now take a few hundred centuries instead of a few 
years; magnify enormously all the little foibles of a family 
living in isolation: you will have no difficulty in imagining 
what must have occurred in primitive societies which have 
remained self-centred and self-satisfied, instead of opening 
windows on to the outside world, of dispersing the foul 
vapours as they gathered about them, and of making a constant 
effort to broaden their horizon. 

We have just defined above two essential functions of 
religion and, in the course of our analysis, we have met with 
primary tendencies which appear to provide an explanation 
of the general forms assumed by religion. We now pass to 
the study of these general forms, these primary tendencies. 
Our method will still remain the same. We postulate a certain 
instinctive activity; then, calling into play intelligence, we try 
to discover whether it leads to a dangerous disturbance; if it 
does, the balance will probably be restored through repre- 
sentations evoked by instinct within the disturbing intelli- 
gence; if such representations exist, they are primary religious 
ideas. For example, the vital impulse knows nothing of death. 
But let intelligence spring to life under pressure from this 
impulse, and up comes the idea of the inevitability of death: 
to restore to life its impetus, an opposing representation will 
start up, and from it will emerge the primitive beliefs con- 
cerning death. But, though death be the greatest accident of 
all, yet to how many other accidents is not life exposed! Does 
not the very application of intelligence to life open the door 
to the unforeseen and let in the feeling of risk? An animal is 
sure of itself. In its case nothing intervenes between aim 


and act. If its prey is there, the animal pounces upon it. If 
it is a matter of lying in wait, its waiting is a forestalling of 
the act and will form, with the accomplishment of it, an 
undivided whole. If the ultimate objective is remote, as in 
the case of the bee building the hive, it is an objective of 
which the animal is unaware; it only sees the immediate 
object, and the leap it takes is exactly co-extensive with 
the act it has to accomplish. But it is the very essence of 
intelligence to co-ordinate means with a view to a remote 
end, and to undertake what it does not feel absolutely sure of 
carrying out. Between what it does and the result it wants to 
attain there is more often than not,^.both in space and in 
time, an interval which leaves ample room for accident. It 
begins, and, to enable it to finish, circumstances, as we say, 
must lend their aid. It may indeed be fully conscious of this 
margin of the unexpected. The savage, when shooting his 
arrow, does not know if it will strike the object at which he 
aimed: we have not here, as in the case of the animal with its 
prey, continuity between gesture and result; a gap appears, 
exposed to accident, attracting the unexpected. Doubtless 
this should not be so in theory. Intelligence is constituted to act 
mechanically on matter; it thus postulates a universal mechan- 
ism and conceives virtually a complete science which would 
make it possible to foresee, at the very instant when the action 
is launched, everything it is likely to come up against before 
reaching its goal. But it is part of the very essence of such 
an ideal that it is never fulfilled, and that it can at the utmost 
serve as a stimulus to the work of the intelligence. In fact, 
human intelligence must confine itself to very limited action 
on a material about which it knows very little. But the vital 
impulse is there, brooking no delay, admitting no obstacle. 
It ignores the accidental, the unforeseen, in a word the in- 
determinate which lies along its path; it advances by leaps 
and bounds, seeing only the end in view, devouring the space 
between. And yet it is necessary that intelligence should have 
cognizance of this anticipation. A representation will accord- 
ingly arise, that of favourable powers overriding or occupying 
the place of the natural causes and continuing into actions or- 


dained by them, in accordance with our wishes, the enterprise 
started on natural lines. We have set a mechanism going, 
this is the beginning; we shall find a mechanism again in the 
realization of the desired effect, that is the end: between the 
two there must have been inserted a supra-mechanical 
guarantee of success. True, if we thus imagine friendly 
powers interested in our success, the logic of intelligence will 
require that we postulate antagonistic causes, unfriendly 
powers, to explain our failure. This last belief will, after all, 
have its practical utility; it will indirectly stimulate our 
activity by inducing us to be circumspect. But this is deriva- 
tion, I might almost say decadence. The representation of a 
hindering force is scarcely a later development than that of a 
helping force; if the latter is natural, the former is its im- 
mediate consequence; but it is bound to proliferate, above 
all in stagnant societies such as those which we now call 
primitive, where beliefs multiply indefinitely by means of 
analogies without any regard for their origin. The vital 
impulse is optimistic. All the religious representations 
which here arise directly from it might then be defined in 
the same way: they are defensive reactions of nature against 
the representation, by the intelligence, of a depressing margin 
of the unexpected between the initiative taken and the effect 

Any one of us can try the experiment if he pleases; he will 
see superstitions start up before his very eyes from the will 
to win. Stake a sum of money on a number at roulette and 
wait till the ball is near the end of its gyrations; just as it is 
perhaps coming, in spite of all its hesitations, to the number 
you have chosen, your hand goes out to push it, and then to 
stop it; here it is your own will, projected outside of yourself, 
which is to fill up the gap between the decision it has taken 
and the result it expects, thus eliminating chance. Now go 
regularly to the gaming rooms, let habit take the lead, your 
hand soon gives up its movement; your will shrinks back into 
its place; but, as it retires, an entity slips in, emanating from 
it and delegated by it: this is luck, a transfiguration of the will 
to win. Luck is not a complete personality; it requires more 


than this to make a divinity. But it has certain elements of 
divinity, just enough to make you rely on it. 

It is to some such power as this that the savage appeals in 
order that his arrow may reach its mark. Skip over the stages 
of a long evolution: you will come to the tutelary gods of the 
city, whose function is to bring victory to its warriors. 

But note that in all cases it is by rational means, it is by 
complying with mechanical sequences of cause and effect that 
things are set going. Wejjegin by^ doing what depends on 
Qjirselyes; it isjonly when we feel that it no longer lies with us 
to help ourselves that we have recourse to extra-mechanical 
power, even if at the outset, since we believed it present, 
we invoked its assistance: we in no wise imagine we are 
fKefeBy excused from taking action. But what might well 
mislead the psychologist here is the fact that the second 
causality is the only one we mention. We say nothing about 
the first, because it is taken for granted. It governs the acts 
we accomplish with matter as our instrument; we act and 
live the belief that we have in it; what would be the use of 
translating it into words and making the idea explicit? This 
would only have value if we already had a science capable of 
using it to advantage. But of the second causality it is worth 
while to think, because we find in it at least an encouragement 
and an incentive. Were science to supply the uncivilized man 
with a contrivance ensuring to him the mathematical certainty 
of hitting the mark, he would abide by that mechanical 
causality (supposing,of course, that he could instantly do away 
with inveterate habits of thought). In the absence of that 
science, his action gets all there is to be got out of mechanical 
causality, since he draws his bow and takes his aim; but his 
thought inclines rather towards the extra-mechanical cause 
which is to direct the arrow where it should go, because, 
failing the weapon which would make him sure of hitting 
the mark, his faith in this causality will give him the self- 
confidence which enables him to take better aim. 

Human activity operates among events on which it has a 
certain influence, but on which it is also dependent. These 
events are to some extent foreseeable, and, to a greater 

ii ON CHANCE 119 

extent, unforeseeable. Since our science is constantly extend- 
ing the field of our prevision, we conceive it as ending in a 
perfect science in which the unforeseeable would cease to 
exist. This is why, to the reflective thought of a civilized man 
(we shall see that the case does not apply to his spontaneous 
representations), the same mechanical concatenation of cause 
and effect with which he comes in contact when dealing with 
things must extend to the whole universe. He does not admit 
that the system of explanation which is appropriate to physical 
events over which he has some control ought to make room, 
when he ventures further, for an entirely different system, 
namely the system he applies in social life when he attributes 
to good or bad, friendly or hostile intentions the behaviour 
of other men towards him. If he does so, it is unwittingly; he 
would not own to it. But the uncivilized man, who has at his 
disposal nothing but an inelastic science exactly proportionate 
to the action he exerts on matter, cannot project into the 
realm of the unforeseeable an expectant science capable of 
embracing it completely and at once opening up wide vistas to 
his ambition. Rather than lose heart, he extends to this realm 
the system of explanation he uses in his intercourse with other 
men; he will expect to meet there with friendly forces, he will 
also think himself exposed to malignant influences; in any case 
he will not be dealing with a world completely alien to him. 
True, if good and evil genii are to preside over the successive 
phases of the operation he performs on matter, they will there- 
by appear to have exerted an influence over that action from the 
very beginning. So our individual will speak as though he in 
no way relied, even for that part of the operation which is his 
own doing, upon the mechanical sequence of cause and effect. 
But if he did not, in this case, believe in a mechanical sequence, 
we should not see him, as soon as he acts, do exactly what is 
necessary to set things going mechanically. Now, whether 
we are dealing with savages or with civilized people, if we 
want really to know what is in a man's mind, we must refer 
to what he does and not to what he says. 

In his extremely interesting and instructive books on 
"primitive mentality", M. Levy-Bruhl emphasizes the indif- 


ference of this mentality to proximate or physical causes, the 
fact that it immediately turns to "mystic causes". "Our daily 
activity", he says, "implies unruffled, perfect confidence in the 
invariability of natural 4aws. The attitude of mind in primitive 
man is very different. To him the nature amid which he lives 
presents itself under an entirely different aspect. All things 
and all creatures therein are involved in a network of mystic 
participations and exclusions". 1 And a little further on: "The 
variable element in collective representations is the occult 
force to which the illness or the death which has occurred is 
attributed: now a witch-doctor is the culprit, now the spirit 
of a dead man, now more or less definite or individualized 
forces . . . ; the element which remains recognizable, we might 
almost say identical, is the pre-established link between ill- 
ness and death, on the one hand, and an invisible power, on 
the other". 2 The author brings various confirmatory reports 
by missionaries and travellers to support this idea, and quotes 
the most curious examples. 

But one point strikes us at once: namely, that in all the 
cases instanced, the effect reported, which is attributed by 
primitive man to an occult cause, is an event concerning man, 
more particularly an accident to a man, more specifically 
still a man's death or illness. There is never any question of 
action by the inanimate on the inanimate (save in cases of a 
phenomenon, meteorological or other, affecting, so to speak, 
man's interests). We are not told that the primitive man who 
sees a tree bending in the wind or the shingle rolled up by a 
wave, or even the dust raised by his foot, imagines the inter- 
vention of anything more than what we call mechanical 
causality. The constant relation between the antecedent and 
the consequent, both of which he perceives, cannot fail to 
impress him: it satisfies him in this case, and, so far as we 
know, he does not here superimpose, much less substitute, a 
"mystic" causality. Let us go further, leaving aside those 
physical facts of which primitive man is an impassive spec- 
tator: can we not say of him also, that his "daily activity 

1 La Mentality primitive (Paris, 1922), pp. 17, 18. 
2 Ibid., p. 24. 

ii ON CHANCE 121 

implies perfect confidence in the invariability of natural laws"? 
Without this confidence, he would not rely on the current of 
the river to carry his canoe, nor on the bending of his bow to 
shoot his arrow, on his hatchet to cut into the trunk, on his 
teeth to bite, on his legs to walk. It is possible that he does 
not explicitly picture this natural causality to himself; he has 
no interest in doing so, being neither a physicist nor a philos- 
opher; but he has faith in it and bases his activity upon it. 
Let us go further still. When the primitive man turns to a 
mystic cause for the explanation of death, illness or any other 
accident, what exactly is the process that he goes through? 
He sees, for instance, that a man has been killed by a frag- 
ment of rock dislodged during a gale. Does he deny that the 
rock was already split, that the wind loosened the stone, that 
the blow cracked the skull? Obviously not. He notes, as we do, 
the operation of these proximate causes. Why then does he 
bring in a " mystic cause", such as the will of a spirit or witch- 
doctor, to set it up as the principal cause? Let us look closer: 
we shall see that what the primitive man explains here by a 
"supernatural" cause is not the physical effect, it is its human 
significance, it is its importance to man, and more especially 
to a particular man, the one who was crushed by the stone. 
There is nothing illogical, consequently nothing "prelogical" 
or even anything which evinces an "imperviousness to ex- 
perience", in the belief that a cause should be proportionate 
to its effect, that, once having admitted the crack in the rock, 
the direction and force of the wind purely physical things 
which take no account of humanity there remains to be 
explained this fact, so momentous to us, the death of a man. 
The effect is contained pre-eminently in the cause, as the old 
philosophers used to put it; and if the effect has a considerable 
human significance, the cause must have at least an equal 
significance; it is in any case of the same order: it is an 
intention. That the scientific habit of the mind breaks it of 
this manner of reasoning is beyond doubt. But it is a natural 
one; it lingers on in civilized man, and manifests itself every 
time the opposing force does not intervene. We drew atten- 
tion to the fact that the gambler, placing his stakes on a 



number at roulette, will attribute his success or failure to good 
or bad luck, that is to say to a favourable or unfavourable 
intention. This will not hinder him from explaining by natural 
causes everything that occurs between the moment of putting 
on his money and the moment when the ball stops; but to the 
mechanical causality he will superadd, at the end of the 
process, a semi- voluntary choice that may serve as a counter- 
part to his own: thus the final effect will be of the same 
importance and the same order as the first cause, which was 
also a choice. And we grasp the practical origin of this very 
logical reasoning when we see the gambler make a movement 
with his hand as though to stop the ball: he is epitomizing his 
will to win, and the resistance to this will, in the form of good 
or bad luck, in order to feel the presence of a hostile or friendly 
power, and thus give its full interest to the game. But more 
striking still is the resemblance between the mentality of the 
civilized and of the primitive man when dealing with facts 
such as those we have just had in view: death, illness, serious 
accident. An officer who took part in the Great War told us 
he always noticed that the men dreaded the bullets more than 
the shells, although artillery-fire was far more deadly. The 
reason is that with bullets we feel we are aimed at; and each of 
us, in spite of himself, reasons as follows: "To produce the 
effect, which would mean so much to me, of death or a 
serious wound, there must be a cause of equal importance, 
there must be intent". A soldier who, as it happened, had 
been hit by a splinter from a shell, told us that his first impulse 
had been to exclaim: "How silly!" That this fragment of 
shell, projected by a purely mechanical cause, and which 
might just as well have struck anybody, or nobody, should 
nevertheless have come and struck him, him and not some- 
body else, appeared to his natural intelligence illogical. By 
introducing the idea of "bad luck", he would have demon- 
strated more clearly still the kinship of this spontaneous 
intelligence with the primitive mentality. A representation 
rich in matter, like the idea of a witch-doctor or a spirit, 
must doubtless relinquish the greater part of its content to 
become the notion of "bad luck"; yet it subsists, it is not 

ii ON CHANCE 123 

completely emptied; consequently the two mentalities are not 
so widely different from each other. 

The extremely varied examples of "primitive mentality" 
which M. Levy-Bruhl has accumulated in his works can be 
grouped under a certain number of headings. The most 
numerous are those which show, according to the author, 
that primitive man obstinately refuses to admit the existence 
of chance. If a stone falls and crushes a passer-by, it was an 
evil spirit that dislodged it: there is no chance about it. If a 
man is dragged out of his canoe by an alligator, it is 
because he was bewitched: there is no chance about it. If a 
warrior is killed or wounded by lance-thrust, it is because he 
was not in a state to parry the blow, a spell has been cast upon 
him: there is no chance about it. 1 The formula recurs so often 
in M. Levy-Bruhl's writings that it may be considered as 
summing up one of the main characteristics of primitive 
mentality. But, to that eminent philosopher we shall say, when 
you reproach primitive man with not believing in chance, 
or at least when you state it to be a characteristic trait of his 
mentality that he does not believe in it, are you not admitting 
the existence of chance, and in admitting it are you quite 
sure that you are not relapsing into that primitive mentality 
you criticize, which at all events you are at great pains to 
distinguish radically from your own? I don't mean, of course, 
that you make of chance an active force. But if it were for 
you a mere nothing, you would not mention it. You would 
consider the word as non-existent, as well as the thing itself. 
But the word exists, and you use it, and it stands for some- 
thing to you, as indeed it does to all of us. Let us ask ourselves 
what it really represents. A huge tile, wrenched off by the 
wind, falls and kills a passer-by. We say it was by chance. 
Should we say the same if the tile had merely crashed on to 
the ground? Perhaps, but it would then be because we were 
vaguely thinking of a man who might have been there, or 
because, for some reason or other, that particular spot on 
the pavement was of special interest to us, so that the tile 

1 See in particular La MentaliU primitive, pp. 28, 36, 45, etc. cf. Les 
Fonctions mentales dans les sorit6s inffrieures, p. 73. 


seemed to have specially selected it to fall upon. In both cases 
chance intervenes only because some human interest is at 
stake, and because things happened as though man had been 
taken into account, either with a view of doing him a service, 
or more likely with the intention of doing him an injury. 1 Think 
only of the wind wrenching off the tile, of the tile falling on 
the pavement, of the crash of the tile on the ground: you see 
nothing but mechanism, the element of chance vanishes. For 
it to intervene it is indispensable that, the effect having a 
human significance, this significance should react upon the 
cause and colour it, so to speak, with humanity. Chance is 
then mechanism behaving as though possessing an intention. 
It may perhaps be said that precisely because we use the word 
when things occur as if there has been intention, we do not 
suppose that there has been real intention, we are recognizing, 
on the contrary, that everything is capable of mechanical ex- 
planation. And this would be very true if we were dealing with 
nothing but reflective, fully conscious thought. But underlying 
it is a spontaneous, semi-conscious thought, which super- 
imposes on the mechanical sequence of cause and effect some- 
thing totally different, not indeed to account for the falling of 
the tile, but to explain why its falling should coincide with the 
passing beneath it of a man, why it should have chosen just 
that very moment to fall. The element of choice or intention 
is as restricted as possible; it recedes as reflexion tries to grasp 
it; it is elusive, nay, evanescent, but if it were non-existent we 
should speak only of mechanism, there would be no question 
of chance. Chance is therefore an intention emptied of its 
content. It is nothing more than a mere shadow, but the shape 
is there even if the matter is not. Have we here one of those 
representations which we call "truly primitive", formed spon- 
taneously by humanity in obedience to a natural tendency? 
Not quite. However spontaneous it may be, the idea of chance 
only reaches our consciousness after having first passed 
through the layer of accumulated experiences which society 

1 We developed this conception of chance in a course of lectures delivered 
at the College de France in 1898, in connection with the Ilcpl 
of Alexander of Aphrodisia. 

ii ON CHANCE 125 

deposits within us from the day it first teaches us to speak. 
It is in the course of this passage that it becomes emptied, 
since an increasingly mechanistic science drives out of it 
what purposefulness it contained. We should therefore have 
to fill it again, give it a body, if we wanted to reconstitute the 
original representation. The phantom of an intention would 
then become a living intention. On the other hand, we should 
now have to give this living intention far too much content, 
over-ballast it with matter, to obtain the malignant or bene- 
ficent entities present in the minds of non-civilized men. It 
cannot be said too often: these superstitions usually imply a 
magnifying, a thickening, in fine an element of caricature. They 
denote, more often than not, that the means has become 
detached from its end. A belief which begins by being useful, 
a spur to the will, has been diverted from the object to which 
it owed its existence to new objects where it is no longer of 
any use, where it might even become dangerous. Having 
multiplied lazily through a superficial imitation of itself, it 
will now have the effect of encouraging laziness. Yet we must 
not go too far. It is seldom that primitive man feels justified 
by that belief in not taking action. The natives of the 
Cameroons lay all the blame on the witch-doctor if one of 
their tribe is devoured by a crocodile; but M. Levy-Bruhl, 
who reports the fact, adds, from the evidence of a traveller, 
that crocodiles hardly ever attack man in that country. 1 
We may rest assured that where crocodiles are habitually 
dangerous the native avoids going into the water just as we 
do: here the animal is feared, witchcraft or no. It is none the 
less true that to pass from the "primitive mentality" to states of 
mind which might well be our own, we have more often than 
not to do two things. First we have to make a clean sweep of all 
our science. Then we must abandon ourselves to a certain 
laziness, turn aside from an explanation which we surmise 
to be more reasonable, but which would call for a greater 
effort of intelligence and, above all, of will. In many cases 
one of these processes is enough; in others we must combine 
the two. 

1 La Mentalite primitive, p. 38. 


Let us take for instance one of the most interesting chapters 
in M. Levy-BruhPs books, the one dealing with the first 
impressions produced on primitive man by our fire-arms, our 
writing, our books, in a word everything we have to give him. 
We find this impression disconcerting at first. We should 
indeed be tempted to attribute it to a mentality different from 
our own. But the more we banish from our minds the science 
we have gradually, almost unconsciously, acquired, the more 
natural the "primitive" explanation appears. Here we have 
people before whom a traveller opens a book, and who are 
told that the book gives information. They conclude that the 
book speaks, and that by putting it to their ear they will hear 
a sound. But to look for anything else in a man unacquainted 
with our civilization would be to expect from him an intelli- 
gence far greater than that of most of us, greater even than 
exceptional intelligence, greater even than genius: it would 
mean wanting him to re-invent the art of writing. For if he 
could imagine the possibility of depicting words on a sheet of 
paper he would possess the principle of alphabetic, or more 
generally phonetic, writing; he would straightaway have 
reached a point which civilized man has only reached by a 
long accumulation of the efforts of a great number of excep- 
tional men. Let us not then talk of minds different from our 
own. Let us simply say that they are ignorant of what we have 

There are also, we added, cases where ignorance is coupled 
with an aversion to effort. Those would be the ones grouped 
by M. L^vy-Bruhl under the title of "ingratitude of the sick". 
Primitive men who have been treated by European doctors 
are not in any way grateful; nay, more, they expect payment 
from the doctor, as if it were they who had done him a service. 
But having no notion of our medical science, no idea that it is 
a science coupled with an art, seeing moreover that the doctor 
is far from always curing his patient, and finally considering 
that he certainly gives his time and his trouble, how can they 
help thinking that the doctor has some interest, unknown to 
them, in what he does? And why, instead of striving to shake 
off their ignorance, should they not adopt quite naturally 


the interpretation which first occurs to their minds, and from 
which they can profit? I put this question to the author of La 
Mentalite primitive, and I shall evoke a recollection, a very 
ancient one, though scarcely older than our old friendship. 
I was a little boy and I had bad teeth. There was nothing for 
it but to take me now and again to the dentist, who at once 
showed no mercy to the offending tooth, he pulled it out 
relentlessly. Between you and me, it hardly hurt at all, for the 
teeth in question would have come out of their own accord; 
but I was no sooner seated in the dentist's chair than I set up 
a blood-curdling yell, for the principle of the thing. My 
family at last found out a way to make me keep quiet. The 
dentist, taking care to make a noise about it, would drop a 
fifty-centimes piece into the glass from which I was to rinse 
out my mouth (asepticism was unknown in those far-off days), 
the purchasing-power of this sum being at that time ten 
sticks of barley sugar. I must have been six or seven, and was 
no stupider than most boys. I was certainly capable of gues- 
sing that this was a put-up job between the dentist and my 
family to bribe me into silence, and that they conspired 
together for my particular good. But it would have needed a 
slight effort to think, and I preferred not to make it, perhaps 
from laziness, perhaps so as not to change my attitude to- 
wards a man against whom my tooth was indeed bared. So I 
simply went on not thinking, and the idea I was bound to 
form of the dentist then stood out automatically in my mind 
in letters of fire. Clearly he was a man who loved drawing 
teeth, and he was even ready to pay for this the sum of half a 

But let us close this parenthesis and sum up what we have 
said. At the origin of the beliefs we have been studying we 
have found a defensive reaction of nature against a dis- 
couragement whose source is to be found in intelligence. This 
reaction arouses within intelligence itself images and ideas 
which hold in check the depressing representation or prevent 
it from materializing. Entities then appear which are not 
necessarily complete personalities: it suffices that they possess 
intentions or even that they coincide with them. Belief then 


means essentially confidence; the original source is not fear, 
but an assurance against fear. And, on the other hand, the 
belief does not necessarily begin by taking a person as its 
object; it is content with a partial anthropomorphism. These 
are the two points which strike us when we consider the 
natural attitude of man towards a future about which he 
thinks, precisely because he is intelligent, and at which he 
would take fright because of the unforeseeable elements 
he finds in it, were he to confine himself to the representation 
of it supplied by intelligence alone. But such are also the two 
points we note in cases where we are dealing not with the 
future but with the present, and where man is the plaything 
of forces immeasurably greater than his own strength. Such 
are the great catastrophes: an earthquake, a flood, a tornado. 
A very old theory attributed the origin of religion to the fear 
inspired by nature in such cases. Primus in orbe deos fecit 
timor. Science has gone too far in rejecting that entirely; the 
emotion felt by a man in the presence of nature certainly 
counts for something in the origin of religions. But, we repeat, 
religion is less a fear than a reaction against fear, and it is not, 
in its beginnings, a belief in deities. It will not be out of place 
to put this statement to a double test, which will not only con- 
firm our preceding analysis, but will enable us to get a more 
precise notion of those entities of which we have said that 
they contain an element of personality without being persons. 
Out of them may grow the gods of mythology, and it will be 
through a process of enrichment. But these entities could, by 
a process of impoverishment, as easily yield that impersonal 
force which primitive man, we are told, sees underlying all 
things. Let us then follow our usual method. Let us ask our 
own consciousness, divested of the acquired, restored to its 
original simplicity, how it reacts to an aggression of nature. 
The observation of one's own self is a very difficult matter 
in such a case, owing to the suddenness with which grave 
events occur; and indeed the occasions are rare when it can 
be done thoroughly. But certain bygone impressions of which 
we have only preserved a dim recollection, and which besides 
were already superficial and vague at the time, will perhaps 


become more distinct, and assume a clearer shape, if we com- 
plete them by the observations made on himself by a master 
of psychological science. William James happened to be in 
California during the terrible earthquake of April 1906, which 
destroyed part of San Francisco. Here is what he wrote on 
the subject: 

"When I departed from Harvard for Stanford University 
last December, almost the last good-bye I got was that of my 
old Californian friend B. 'I hope they'll give you a touch of 
earthquake while you're there, so that you may also become 
acquainted with that Californian institution.' 

"Accordingly, when, lying awake at about half-past five on 
the morning of April 18 in my little 'flat' on the campus of 
Stanford, I felt the bed begin to waggle, my first conscious- 
ness was one of gleeful recognition of the nature of the 
movement. 'By Jove,' I said to myself, 'here's B.'s old earth- 
quake, after all'! And then, as it went crescendo y 'And a jolly 
good one it is, too!' I said. . . . 

"The thing was over, as I understand the Lick Observatory 
to have declared, in forty-eight seconds. To me it felt as if 
about that length of time, although I have heard others say 
that it seemed to them longer. In my case sensation and 
emotion were so strong that little thought, and no reflexion 
or volition, were possible in the short time consumed by the 

"The emotion consisted wholly of glee and admiration; 
glee* at the vividness which such an abstract idea or verbal 
term as 'earthquake' could put on when translated into sen- 
sible reality and verified concretely; and admiration at the 
way in which the frail little wooden house could hold itself 
together in spite of such a shaking. I felt no trace whatever of 
fear; it was pure delight and welcome. 

" 'Go it', I almost cried aloud, 'and go it stronger? . . . 

"As soon as I could think, I discerned retrospectively 
certain peculiar ways in which my consciousness had taken 
in the phenomenon. These ways were quite spontaneous, 
and, so to speak, inevitable and irresistible. 


"First, I personified the earthquake as a permanent in- 
dividual entity. It was the earthquake of my friend B.'s 
augury, which had been lying low and holding itself back 
during all the intervening months in order, on that lustrous 
April morning, to invade my room and energize the 
more intensely and triumphantly. It came, moreover, 
directly to me. It stole in behind my back, and once inside 
the room had me all to itself, and could manifest itself 
convincingly. Animus and intent were never more present 
in any human action, nor did any human activity ever 
more definitely point back to a living agent as its source 
and origin. 

"All whom I consulted on the point agreed as to this 
feature in their experience. 'It expressed intention', 'It was 
vicious', 'It was bent on destruction', 'It wanted to show its 
power', or what not. To me it wanted simply to manifest the 
full meaning of its name. But what was this 'It'? To some, 
apparently, a vague demoniac power; to me an individualized 
being, B.'s earthquake, namely. 

"One informant interpreted it as the end of the world and 
the beginning of the final judgment. This was a lady in San 
Francisco Hotel, who did not think of its being an earthquake 
till after she had got into the street and someone had ex- 
plained it to her. She told me that the theological interpreta- 
tion had kept fear from her mind, and made her take the 
shaking calmly. For 'science', when the tensions in the earth's 
crusts reach the breaking-point and strata fall into an altered 
equilibrium, earthquake is simply the collective name of all 
the cracks and shakings and disturbances that happen. They 
are the earthquake. But for me the earthquake was the cause 
of the disturbances, and the perception of it as a living agent 
was irresistible. It had an overpowering dramatic convincing- 

"I realize now better than ever how inevitable were men's 
earlier mythological versions of such catastrophes, and how 
artificial and against the grain of our spontaneous perceiving 
are the later habits into which science educates us. It was 
simply impossible for untutored men to take earthquakes 


into their minds as anything but supernatural warnings or 
retributions." 1 

The first thing we notice is that William James speaks of 
the earthquake as an " individual being"; he notes that he 
personified the earthquake "as a permanent individual 
entity". But he does not say that there was be it god or 
demon an integral personality, capable of a variety of 
actions, of which the earthquake was one particular mani- 
festation. On the contrary, the entity in question is the 
phenomenon itself, regarded as permanent; its manifestation 
conveys its whole essence; its unique function is to be an 
earthquake; there is a soul, but that soul is simply the intention 
pervading the act. 2 If the author tells us that "never did 
human activity more definitely point back to a living agent 
as its source and origin" he means by this that the intent and 
the animus seemed to belong to the earthquake in the same 
way as the acts performed by a living agent seem to belong to 
the agent while he remains, so to speak, behind them. But 
that the living agent is in this case the earthquake itself, that 
it possesses no other activity, no other property, that con- 
sequently what it is coincides with what it does, is borne 
out by the whole account. An entity of this kind, whose 
being and appearance are one, which is indistinguishable 
from a given act and whose intention is immanent in that 
act itself, being but the design and the conscious meaning 
of it, is precisely what we have been calling an element of 

There is now another point which cannot fail to strike us. 
The San Francisco earthquake was a terrible catastrophe. 
But to William James, finding himself suddenly face to face 
with the danger, it appears rather as something mischievous 
which invites familiarity. "By Jove, here's the old Earth- 
quake!" And other people present had the same impression. 
The earthquake was "wicked"; it had a mind of its own, "it 

1 William James, Memories and Studies, pp. 209-214. Quoted by H. M. 
Kallen in Why Religion? (New York), 1927. 

8 "Animus and intent were never more present in any human action." 


was bent on destruction". That is just the way we speak of a 
young scapegrace with whom we may not have broken entirely. 
But the fear that paralyses is the fear born of the thought 
that blind and overwhelming forces are about to crush us to 
pulp unconsciously. Thus does the material world appear to 
intelligence pure and simple. The scientific conception of the 
earthquake, alluded to by William James in the last lines, is 
likely to be the most dangerous of all, so long as science, which 
gives us a clear perception of the peril, has not supplied us 
with means of escaping it. To counteract this scientific con- 
ception, and more generally the mental picture which it has 
endowed with greater precision, there comes a defensive re- 
action in the presence of a grave and sudden peril. The dis- 
turbances with which we have to deal, each of them entirely 
mechanical 'combine into an Event, which resembles a human 
being, possibly a "bad lot" but none the less one of us. He is 
not an outsider. A certain comradeship is possible between 
us. This suffices to dispel fright, or rather to prevent it 
arising. Generally speaking, fright has its uses, like all other 
feelings. An animal to whom fear is unknown might have no 
idea of flying or resisting; it would soon succumb in the 
struggle for life. This explains the existence of a feeling such 
as fear. It is intelligible too that fear should be in proportion 
to danger. But it is a feeling which pulls us up, turns us aside 
or pushes us bacC:Tt is essentially inhibitive. When the peril 
is great, when the fear is nearing its paroxysm and almost 
paralysing, a defensive reaction of nature occurs to counteract 
the emotion, which was also natural. Our faculty of feeling 
could certainly not be changed, it remains what it was; but 
intelligence, impelled by instinct, transforming the situation, 
evokes the reassuring image. It lends to the Event a unity 
and an individuality which make of it a mischievous, maybe a 
malignant being, but still one of ourselves, with something 
sociable and human about it. 

I ask the reader to search his memory. Unless I am much 
mistaken, he will find a confirmation of William James's 
analysis. I shall at any rate take the liberty of recalling one or 
two recollections of my own. The first goes back to the far-off 


days, since I was very young at the time and went in for 
sports, particularly riding. Now one fine day, having just 
encountered on the road that most fantastic of apparitions, a 
cyclist perched on a tall velocipede, my horse took fright and 
bolted. That this might happen, that in such cases there were 
certain things I should do, or at least try to do, I knew as 
well as any pupil in the riding school. But I had never thought 
of the possibility otherwise than in an abstract form. That the 
accident should actually occur, at a given point in time and 
space, that it should happen to me rather than to someone 
else, struck me as implying a preference for me personally. 
Who then had chosen me? It was not the horse. It was no 
complete being, whatever it was, good or evil genius. It was 
the occurrence itself, an individual with no body of its own, 
for it was nothing but a combination of circumstances, but 
it had a soul, a very elementary one, hardly distinguishable 
from the intention apparently manifested by circumstances. 
It followed me in my wild gallop, mischievously watching to 
see how I should manage. And my. one idea was to show it 
what I could do. If I felt no fear, it was precisely because my 
whole mind was centred on this one idea; and also, perhaps, 
because the malice of my strange companion did not preclude 
^"certain good fellowship. I have often thought of this little 
incident, and said to myself that nature could not have 
conceived any better psychical mechanism than this, if she 
intended, while endowing us with fear as a salutary emotion, 
to preserve us from it in cases where we had best not give 
way to it. 

I have just cited a case where the "good fellowship" nature 
of the Accident is the most striking thing about it. Here is 
another case, which perhaps brings out more distinctly still 
its unity, its individuality, the clearness with which it carves 
itself out a place in the continuity of the real. While still a 
boy, in 1871, on the morrow of the Franco-Prussian War, I 
had, like all people of my generation, considered another war 
to be imminent during the twelve or fifteen years that followed. 
Later on that war appeared as at once probable and impos- 
sible: a complex and contradictory idea, which lasted right 


down to the fatal day. Indeed it called up no image to our 
minds, beyond its verbal expression. It kept its abstract 
character right down to those terrible hours when the conflict 
became obviously inevitable, down to the very last minute, 
while we were still hoping against hope. But when, on 
August 4, 1914, I opened the Matin newspaper and read in 
great headlines: "Germany Declares War on France", I sud- 
denly felt an invisible presence which all the past had prepared 
and foretold, as a shadow may precede the body that casts it. 
It was as though some creature of legend, having escaped 
from the book in which its story was told, had quietly taken 
possession of the room. True, I was not dealing with a com- 
plete personality. There was only enough of it to produce a 
certain effect. It had bided its time; and now unceremoni- 
ously it took its seat like one of the family. It was to intervene 
just at this moment, in this place, that it had been vaguely 
interlinked with my life-history. To the staging of this scene, 
the room with its furniture, the paper upon the table, myself 
standing in front of it, the event pervading every nook and 
cranny, forty-three years of vague foreboding had all been 
leading up. Horror-struck as I was, and though I felt a war, 
even a victorious war, to be a catastrophe, I experienced what 
William James expresses, a feeling of admiration for the 
smoothness of the transition from the abstract to the con- 
crete: who would have thought that so terrible an eventuality 
could make its entrance into reality with so little disturbance? 
The impression of this facility was predominant above all 
else. On reflexion, one realizes that, if nature intended to 
oppose a defensive reaction against fear, and prevent a 
paralysis of the will brought about by an over-intelligent 
representation of a cataclysm entailing endless consequences, 
she would create between us and the event simplified, trans- 
muted into a rudimentary personality, just this very familiarity 
which puts us at our ease, relieves the strain, and disposes us 
quite simply to do our duty. 

We must search for these fleeting impressions, which are 
immediately blotted out by reflexion, if we want to find some 
vestige of what may have been felt by our remotest ancestors. 


We should not hesitate to do so, if we were not imbued with 
the preconceived idea that the moral and intellectual acquisi- 
tions of humanity, incorporated in the substance of individual 
organisms, have come down to us through heredity. In that 
case we should be born totally different from what our 
ancestors were. But heredity does not possess this virtue. It 
cannot make natural tendencies out of habits contracted from 
generation to generation. If it had any hold on habit, it would 
have a very slight one, accidentally and exceptionally; it has 
probably none at all. The natural is, then, to-day what it has 
always been. True, things happen as if it had been trans- 
formed, since all that society has acquired overlays it, since 
society moulds individuals by means of an education that 
goes on without a break from the hour of their birth. But let 
a sudden shock paralyse these superficial activities, let the 
light in which they work be extinguished for a moment: at 
once the natural reappears, like the changeless star in the 
night. The psychologist who wants to go back to what is 
primitive must seek after these out-of-the-way experiences. 
For all that, he will not let go his guiding thread, he will not 
forget that nature is utilitarian, and that every instinct has its 
function; those instincts which we might call intellectual are 
defensive reactions against the exaggeratedly and above all 
the prematurely intelligent element in intelligence. But the 
two methods will help each other: the one serving rather for 
research, the other for verification. It is our pride, a twofold 
pride, which generally makes us shy at them. We want man 
to be born superior to what he used to be, as if true merit did 
not lie in effort, as though a species in which each individual 
has to rise above himself by a laborious assimilation of all the 
past were not, to say the least, on a par with a species in which 
each generation would be raised in its entirety to a higher 
level than the preceding ones by the automatic play of 
heredity! But there is yet another pride, that of intelligence, 
which will not admit its original subordination to biological 
necessities. No one would study a cell, a tissue, an organ, 
without caring about its function; in the field of psychology 
itself, no one would consider he had fully accounted for an 


instinct unless he had connected it with some need of the 
species; but once you come to intelligence, farewell nature! 
farewell life! Intelligence is assumed to be what it is "for no 
particular reason, for the fun of the thing". As if it also did not 
primarily correspond to vital needs! Its original business is to 
resolve problems similar to those resolved by instinct, though 
indeed by a very different method, which ensures progress 
and which cannot be applied unless it be, in theory, com- 
pletely independent of nature. But this independence is 
limited in fact: it ceases at the exact moment when intelligence 
would defeat its own object by injuring some vital interest. 
Intelligence is then inevitably kept under observation by in- 
stinct, or rather by life, the common origin of instinct and 
intelligence. This is just what we mean when we speak of 
intellectual instincts; we are then dealing with representa- 
tions formed naturally by intelligence, by way of safeguarding 
itself, through certain beliefs, against certain dangers of know- 
ledge. Such are then the tendencies, such are the experiences 
psychology must bear in mind, if it wants to get back to the 

The study of the uncivilized will be none the less valuable. 
We have said, and we cannot repeat it too often: they are as 
far from the beginning of things as we are, but they have 
invented less. So they have had to apply the same knowledge 
in countless different ways; theirs has perforce been a process 
of exaggeration, caricature, in a word, distortion, rather than 
radical transformation. But whether it be a matter of trans- 
formation or one of distortion, the original form subsists, 
merely covered over by the acquired; in both cases, therefore, 
the psychologist in search of origins will have the same kind 
of effort to make, but the road may be shorter in the second 
case than in the first. This is what will occur especially when 
we come to find similar beliefs among peoples between whom 
there can have been no possible communication. These 
beliefs are not necessarily primitive, but they have very likely 
come straight from one of those fundamental tendencies 
which an effort of introspection would enable us to discover 
within ourselves. They may then put us in the way of this 


discovery, and guide that introspection which will later serve 
to explain them. 

We have always to go back to these questions of method 
if we do not wish to go astray in our search. At the turning- 
point which we have reached we stand particularly in need 
of them. For we are dealing with nothing less than the 
reactions of man to his perception of things, of events, of the 
universe in general. That intelligence is made to utilize 
matter, to dominate things, to master events, there is no 
doubt. That its power is in direct proportion to its knowledge 
is no less certain. But this science is in the beginning very 
limited; very small indeed is the portion of the universal 
mechanism that it embraces, of the space and time over which 
it has control. What about the rest? Left to itself, intelligence 
would simply realize its ignorance; man would feel himself 
lost in immensity. But instinct is on the watch. To the strictly 
scientific knowledge which goes with technical progress, or is 
implied in it, instinct adds, for all those things which are 
beyond our scope, the belief in powers that are supposed to 
take man into account. The universe is thus peopled with 
intentions which are, it is true, fleeting and variable; the only 
purely mechanical area is supposed to be that within which 
we act mechanically. This area expands with the advance 
of civilization: the whole universe ends by appearing as a 
mechanism to an intelligence which conceives the ideal vision 
of a complete science. We have reached this stage, and it 
takes, to-day, a vigorous etfort of introspection to rediscover 
the original beliefs which our science covers over with all it 
knows and hopes to know. But, as soon as we get at them, we 
see how they are to be explained by the joint working of in- 
telligence and instinct, how they must have corresponded 
:o a vital interest. Turning then to uncivilized man, we verify 
tfhat we have observed in ourselves: but in his case the belief 
s swollen, exaggerated, multiplied: instead of receding, as 
t does with civilized man, in the face of the progress of 
science, it overflows into the area reserved to mechanical 
iction, and overlays activities which ought to preclude it. 
This brings us to an essential point. It has been asserted that 


religion began as magic. Magic has also been considered as 
a forerunner of science. If we confine ourselves to psychology, 
as we have done, if we reconstitute, by an effort of intro- 
spection, the natural reaction of man to his perception of 
things, we find that, while magic and religion are akin, there 
is nothing in common between magic and science. 

We have indeed just seen that primitive intelligence divides 
its experience into two separate parts. There is, on the one 
side, that which obeys the action of the hand or the tool, that 
which can be foreseen and relied on: this part of the universe 
is conceived physically, until such time as it is conceived 
mathematically; it appears as a concatenation of causes and 
effects, in any case it is treated as such; no matter if this con- 
ception be indistinct, or barely conscious; it may never be 
expressed; but in order to know what intelligence thinks 
implicitly, we need only look at what it does. Then, on the 
other hand, there is that part of experience upon which homo 
faber feels he has entirely lost his grip. This part is treated no 
longer physically, but morally. Since we can exert no power 
over it, we hope it will exert some power in our behoof. Thus 
nature becomes in such a case impregnated with humanity. 
But she will acquire this human quality only as far as is 
necessary. In default of power, we must have confidence. For 
us to feel comfortable, the event which singles itself out 
before our eyes from the mass of reality must appear animated 
with a purpose. That will be indeed our natural and original 
conviction. But we shall not stop there. It is not enough for 
us to have nothing to fear, we would fain have something to 
hope for as well. If the event is not utterly devoid of feeling, 
can we not manage to influence it? Will it not allow itself to 
be convinced or constrained? This will be difficult if it re- 
mains what it is, a transient intention, a rudimentary soul; 
it would not have personality enough to hearken to our 
prayers, it would have too much to be at our beck and call. 
But our mind can easily impel it in one direction or the other. 
For the pressure of instinct has given rise, within intelli- 
gence, to that form of imagination which is the myth-making 
function. Myth-making has but to follow its own course in 


order to fashion, out of the elementary personalities looming 
up at the outset, gods that assume more and more exalted form 
like those of mythology, or deities ever more degraded, such as 
mere spirits, or even forces which retain only one property 
from their psychological origin, that of not being purely 
mechanical, and of complying with our wishes, of bending 
to our will. The first and second directions are those of 
religion, the third that of magic. Let us begin with the latter. 
There has been a great deal of discussion about the notion 
of mana which was brought out some years ago by Codrington 
in his famous book on the Melanesians, and about its equiv- 
alent, or rather something analogous to it, supposed to exist 
among other primitives: such as the orenda of the Iroquois, 
the wahanda of the Sioux, etc. All these words seem to con- 
note a force present throughout nature, a force of which some 
if not all things are said to partake in different degrees. From 
this to the hypothesis of a primitive philosophy taking form 
in the human mind at the very dawn of thought there is but 
a step. Some authorities have indeed supposed that the minds 
of the non-civilized were obsessed by a vague kind of pan- 
theism. But it is very unlikely that humanity starts from such 
general and abstract notions. Before any man can philosophize 
he must live. Scholars and philosophers are too much inclined 
to believe that the mind works in all men as with them, for 
the sheer love of thinking. The truth is that its aim is action, 
and that, if there really is any philosophy to be found in the 
uncivilized man, it is certainly action rather than thought; it 
is implied in a whole group of operations which are useful or 
considered as such; it only emerges from them, it only ex- 
presses itself in words and they are inevitably very vague 
for the convenience of action. MM. Hubert and Mauss, in 
their very interesting Theorie generate de la magie> have made 
out a strong case for the belief in magic being inseparable 
from the conception of the mana. According to them it 
would appear that this belief derives from that conception. 
Is it not just the other way round? It does not strike us as 
probable that the representation corresponding to such 
terms as mana, orenda, etc., was formed first and that magic 


originated thence. Quite the contrary, it is because man 
believed in magic, because he practised it, that he must have 
represented things to himself in this way: his magic appar- 
ently worked, and he did but explain, or rather express, its 
success. Now, that he should have begun at once to practise 
magic is easy to understand; he realized at once that the 
limits of his normal influence over the outside world were 
soon reached, and he could not resign himself to going no 
further. So he carried on the movement, and, since the 
movement could not by itself secure the desired result, 
nature must needs take the task in hand. It could only be 
so if matter were, so to speak, magnetized, if it turned of its 
own accord towards man, to undertake his errands and carry 
out his orders. Matter remained none the less amenable, as 
we should say to-day, to physical laws; this had to be so, for 
the sake of the mechanical hold upon it. But it was, besides, 
impregnated with humanity, I mean charged with a force 
capable of entering into human designs. Man could turn this 
tendency to advantage so as to extend his action further than 
physical laws permitted. We can easily convince ourselves 
of this if we consider the magical recipes, and the concep- 
tions of matter which made it possible to imagine confusedly 
that magic could succeed. 

The operations have often been described, but as the 
applications of certain theoretical principles such as "like 
acts on like", "the part stands for the whole", etc. That these 
formulae can serve to classify magical processes there is no 
doubt. But it in no wise follows that magical operations are 
derived from them. If primitive intelligence had begun by 
conceiving principles, it would very soon have capitulated 
before the evidence of experience, which would have proved 
them erroneous. But here again it merely translates into 
a conception what was suggested by an instinct. To put it 
more clearly, there is a logic of the body, an extension of 
desire, which comes into play long before intelligence has 
found a conceptual form for it. Take, for instance, a "primi- 
tive" man who wants to kill his enemy: that enemy, however, 
is far away; it is impossible to get at him. No matter! Our 


man is in a rage; he goes through the motions of pouncing on 
the absent man. Once started he goes on to the bitter end; 
he squeezes his fingers round the neck of the victim he thinks 
he has hold of, or wants to have hold of, and throttles him. 
But he knows very well that the result is not complete. He 
has done everything that he himself could do: he demands 
that things should do the rest. They will not do it mechanic- 
ally. They will not yield to a physical necessity, as when our 
man stamped on the earth, moved his arms or legs, in a word, 
obtained from matter reactions corresponding to his actions. 
Therefore he wants matter, not only to be obliged to give 
back mechanically what it receives, but also to possess the 
faculty of fulfilling desires and obeying orders. There will be 
nothing impossible in this if nature already tends of her own 
accord to take man into account. It will suffice that the same 
compliance shown by certain events should also be found in 
things. The latter will then be more or less charged with sub- 
missiveness and potency: they will hold at our disposal a 
power which yields to the desires of man, and of which man 
may avail himself. Words such as mana, wakonda, etc., express 
this force, and at the same time the prestige surrounding it. You 
will not find the same precise meaning for all of them, if you 
are looking for precise meanings, but they all correspond to 
the same vague idea. They express that which causes things 
to lend themselves to the operations of magic. As to these 
operations themselves, we have just determined their nature. 
They begin the act which man cannot finish. They go through 
the motions which alone could not produce the desired effect, 
but which will achieve it, if the man concerned knows how 
to prevail upon the goodwill of things. 

Magic is then innate in man, being but the outward pro- 
jection of a desire which fills the heart. If it has appeared 
artificial, if it has been reduced to superficial associations of 
ideas, it is because it has been studied in processes which 
were especially devised to relieve the magician from putting 
his heart and soul into them, and to enable him to obtain the 
same result without the same effort. An actor studying his 
part really and truly lives the emotion he has to express; he 


notes the gestures and inflections to which it gives rise; later, 
when facing the public, he will only produce the inflection and 
the gesture, he can afford to dispense with the emotion. It is 
the same with magic. The "laws" which have been found for 
it tell us nothing of the natural impulse from which it sprang. 
They are only a formula for the expedients which laziness has 
suggested to the original magic by way of self-imitation. 

It arises first of all, we are told, from the fact that "like 
begets like". There is no apparent reason why humanity 
should begin by positing so abstract and arbitrary a law. But 
it is understandable that after having gone instinctively 
through the motions of flinging himself on his absent enemy, 
after having convinced himself that his anger, projected into 
space and conveyed forward by some obliging matter, will 
proceed to accomplish the act begun, a man should want to 
obtain the same effect without having to work himself up 
into the same state. He will therefore go through the process 
again in cold blood. That very action, described in his wrath, 
which he performed when he thought he was locking his 
fingers about his enemy's throat, he will reproduce by means 
of a ready-made model, a dummy whose outlines he will 
merely have to go over. It is thus that he will practise hoodoo. 
The puppet he uses need not even resemble his enemy, since 
its only function is to ensure that the act is repeated exactly 
as before. Such seems to be the psychological origin of a 
principle to be expressed in some such formula as "like is 
equivalent to like" or, better still, in more precise terms, "the 
static can replace the dynamic when it traces the pattern of 
the latter". In this ultimate form, reminiscent of its origin, 
the principle would not lend itself to indefinite extension. 
But in the first form it permits of the belief that it is possible 
to affect a distant object through the intermediary of a near 
object bearing the merest superficial resemblance to it. It 
need not even be explicitly stated or formulated. Merely 
implied in an almost instinctive process, it enables this natural 
magic to proliferate indefinitely. 

Magic practices are referred to yet other laws: "it is pos- 
sible to influence a being or a thing by acting on something 


it has touched", "the part is valid for the whole", etc. But 
the psychological origin remains the same. The essential is 
always to repeat in tranquillity, with the conviction that it is 
efficacious, the act which has given a quasi-hallucinatory 
impression of its efficacy when performed in a moment of 
excitement. In time of drought, the sorcerer is asked to pro- 
duce the rain. If he were actually to put his whole soul into 
the task, he would, by an effort of imagination, raise himself 
up to the cloud, he would believe that he felt himself cleaving 
it asunder, and scattering it in rain-drops. But he will find it 
simpler to suppose he has nearly come back to earth again, 
and then to pour out a little water; this minute fraction of the 
event will produce it in its entirety, if the effort which would 
have had to be launched from earth to heaven finds some- 
thing to take its place, and if the intermediary matter is more 
or less charged as it were with positive or negative elec- 
tricity with a semi-physical or semi-moral readiness to serve 
or to thwart man. This amounts to saying that there exists a 
very simple natural magic, reducible to a small number of 
practices. It is reflexion upon these practices, or perhaps the 
mere translation into words, which has made it possible for 
them to multiply in every direction and to absorb all super- 
stitions as well, because the formula always goes beyond the 
fact which it expresses. 

Magic then seems to us to resolve itself into two elements: 
the desire to act on a thing, even on that which is out of reach, 
and the idea that things are charged, or can be charged, with 
what we should call human fluid. We must revert to the first 
point to draw the comparison between magic and science, and 
to the second to show the connexion of magic with religion. 

That there have been cases where magic has accidentally 
been of service to science is not impossible: matter cannot 
be manipulated without some benefit accruing from it. But 
even then, to utilize an observation or simply to note it, 
there must be some propensity for scientific research. Now 
the moment such is the case you are turning your back on 
magic. It is indeed easy to define science, since it has always 
worked in the same direction. It measures and calculates with 


a view to anticipation and action. It first supposes, then veri- 
fies, that the universe is governed by mathematical laws. In 
a word, all progress in science consists in a wider knowledge 
and a richer utilization of the universal mechanism. This 
progress, moreover, is accomplished by an effort of our intel- 
ligence, which is designed to guide our action upon things, 
and whose structure must therefore be modelled on the 
mathematical framework of the universe. Although we are 
called upon to act only on the things about us, and though 
such was the primitive intention of the function of intelli- 
gence, yet, since the mechanism of the universe is present in 
each of its parts, it was absolutely necessary that man should 
be born with an intelligence virtually capable of embracing 
the whole material world. It is the same with the working of 
the mind as with the faculty of sight: the eye too was only 
meant to reveal to us objects on which we can act; but just 
as nature could only obtain the requisite degree of vision with 
an apparatus whose effect goes byond its object (since we can 
see the stars, while we have no control over them), in the 
same way she necessarily had to give us, along with the faculty 
of understanding the matter we have to deal with, a virtual 
knowledge of the rest, and the no less virtual power of utiliz- 
ing it. True, it is a far cry, in this case, from the virtual to the 
actual. All effective progress, in the realm of knowledge as 
in that of action, has demanded the persistent effort of one or 
several superior men. There was, each time, creation, which 
nature had doubtless made possible in that she endowed us 
with an intelligence whose form outstrips its matter, but* one 
which went, so to speak, beyond what nature had intended. 
Man's physical and moral structure seemed indeed to destine 
him for a more humble existence. His instinctive resistance 
to innovations is a proof. The inertia of humanity has never 
fielded, save under the impulsion of genius. In a word, science 
demands a two-fold effort, that of a few men to find some new 
thing and that of all the others to adopt it and adapt them- 
selves to it. A society may be called civilized when you find 
n it such a power to lead and willingness to be led. The second 
:ondition is indeed more difficult of fulfilment than the first. 


What was lacking among the uncivilized was probably not 
the exceptional man (there seems to be no reason why nature 
should not have had always and everywhere such fits of 
abstraction) but the chance for such a man to show his 
superiority, and the readiness of other men to follow him. 
Once a society is already on the road to civilization, the pros- 
pect of a mere increase of well-being will doubtless suffice to 
overcome its ingrained habits. But to get it on to this road, 
to start it into motion the first time, requires a great deal 
more: perhaps the menace of extermination, such as that 
created by the discovery of a new weapon by an enemy tribe. 
Those societies which have remained more or less "primi- 
tive" are probably those that have had no neighbours, more 
generally still those for whom life has been too easy. They 
were not called upon to make the initial effort. Subsequently, 
it was too late; the society could not advance, even if it wanted 
to, because it was contaminated by the products of its own 
laziness. These products are precisely the practices of magic, 
at least inasmuch as they are excessive and all-encroaching. 
For magic is the reverse of science. So long as the inertia 
of the environment does not cause it to proliferate, it has its 
function to perform. It temporarily calms the uneasiness of 
an intelligence whose form exceeds its substance, which is 
vaguely aware of its ignorance and realizes the danger of it, 
which divines, outside the very small circle in which action 
is sure of its effect, where the immediate future is predictable 
and within which therefore science already prevails, a vast 
area of the unpredictable such as may well discourage action. 
And yet act it must. Magic then steps in, as an immediate 
effect of the vital impulse. As man widens his knowledge 
through effort, it will gradually recede. Meanwhile, as magic is 
apparently successful (for the failure of a magical process can 
always be attributed to the success of some counter-magic) it 
produces the same moral effect as science. But this is its only 
feature in common with science, from which it is separated 
by the whole distance between wishing and willing. Far from 
paving the way for science, as some have maintained, it has 
been the great obstacle against which methodical knowledge 


has had to contend. Civilized man is a being in whom in- 
cipient science, implicit in the daily round, has been able to 
encroach, thanks to an ever-active will, on that magic which 
was occupying the rest of the field. Non-civilized man is, on 
the contrary, one who, disdaining effort, has allowed magic 
to invade the realm of incipient science, to overlay it, and 
conceal it, even to the point of making us believe in a primi- 
tive mentality devoid of all real science. Moreover, once in 
possession, it plays thousands of variations upon its own 
themes, being more prolific than science, since its inventions 
are pure fantasy and cost no effort. Let there be no talk, then, 
of an era of magic followed by an era of science. Let us say 
that science and magic are both natural, that they have always 
co-existed, that our science is very much more extensive than 
that of our remote ancestors, but that the latter must have 
been much less given to magic than the non-civilized man of 
to-day. We have remained, at bottom, what they were. Driven 
back by science, the inclination towards magic still survives, 
and bides its time. Let our attention to science relax for one 
instant, and magic will at once come rushing back into our 
civilized society, just as a desire, repressed in our waking 
hours, takes advantage of the lightest sleep to find satisfaction 
in a dream. 

There remains then the problem of the relationship between 
magic and religion. Everything depends, obviously, on the 
meaning of this last term. The philosopher studies for the 
most part a thing to which common sense has already given 
a name. Man may only have got a glimpse of it and that 
glimpse may have been deceptive; it may have been jumbled 
up with other things, from which it must be isolated. It 
may even have been segregated from reality as a whole 
merely for convenience of speech, and so not effectively con- 
stitute, an entity, lending itself to independent study. Herein 
lies the great inferiority of philosophy compared to mathe- 
matics and even to natural sciences. Its starting-point must 
be the cutting up of reality by speech a division and dis- 
tribution which is perhaps entirely relative to the needs of 
the city: philosophy too often ignores this origin, and pro- 


ceeds like a geographer who, in order to discriminate between 
the different regions of the globe and indicate the physical 
connections between them, should take it into his head to go 
by the frontiers established by treaties. In the study we have 
undertaken, we have guarded against this danger by passing 
directly from the word "religion "and everything it embraces in 
virtue of a possibly artificial disgregation of things, to a certain 
function of the mind which can be directly observed, without 
considering the distribution of the real into concepts corre- 
sponding to words. In our analysis of the operations of this 
function we have successively rediscovered several of the 
meanings given to the word religion. Continuing our study, 
we shall find other shades of meaning, and we may add one 
or two new ones. It will then be plainly demonstrated that 
this time the word embraces a reality: a reality which, it is 
true, will somewhat overstep, upwards and downwards, the 
limits of the usual significance of the word. But we shall then 
grasp it in itself, in its structure and in its principle, as often 
happens when we relate to a physiological function, such 
as digestion, a great number of facts observed in different 
parts of the organism, and even discover thereby new facts. 
If we look at the matter from this angle, magic is evidently 
part of religion. I mean, of course, the lower type of religion, 
the one with which we have been dealing up to now. But 
magic, in common with this religion, generally speaking, 
represents a precaution of nature to meet certain dangers 
encountered by the intelligent being. Now, it is possible to 
follow another line, to start from the various ordinary inter- 
pretations of the word religion, compare them, and extract 
therefrom an average meaning: in this way we shall have 
solved a dictionary question rather than a philosophical 
problem; but no matter, so long as we realize what we are 
about, and do not imagine (a constant illusion of philosophers) 
that we have obtained the essence of a thing when we have 
agreed upon the conventional meaning of the word. Let us 
then set out all the acceptations of the word, like the colours 
of the spectrum or the notes in a scale: we shall find, some- 
where about the middle, at an equal distance from the two 


extremities, the adoration of gods to whom men pray. It 
goes without saying that religion thus conceived is opposed 
to magic. The latter is essentially selfish, the former admits 
of and even demands disinterestedness. The one claims to 
compel the compliance of nature, the other implores the 
favour of the god. Above all, magic works in an environment 
which is semi-physical and semi-moral; the magician, at all 
events, is not dealing with a person; whereas on the contrary 
it is from the personality of the god that religion draws its 
greatest efficacy. Granted that primitive intelligence thinks 
it perceives around it, in phenomena and in events, elements 
of personality rather than complete personalities, religion, as 
we have just understood it, will ultimately reinforce these 
elements to the extent of completely personifying them, 
whereas magic looks upon them as debased, dissolved, as it 
were, in a material world in which their efficacy can be tapped. 
Magic and religion, then, go their separate ways, having 
started from a common origin, and there can be no question of 
deriving religion from magic: they are contemporaneous. It is 
understandable, however, that there should be something of 
the one hovering round the other, that some magic lingers 
in religion, and still more, some religion in magic. We know 
that the magician sometimes works through the medium 
of spirits, that is to say of being relatively individualized, 
but which do not possess the complete personality nor the 
eminent dignity of gods. On the other hand, incantation may 
partake of both command and prayer. 

The history of religions has long regarded the belief in 
spirits as primitive and explanatory of all the rest. As each 
one of us has his soul, a subtler essence than that of the body, 
so, in nature, everything was said to have been animated, to be 
accompanied by a vaguely spiritual entity. Spirits once having 
been admitted, humanity passed, so it is said, from belief 
to adoration: hence a natural philosophy, animism, from 
which religion sprang. To this hypothesis another theory 
is apparently preferred to-day. In a "pre-animist" or "ani- 
matist" phase, humanity is supposed to have imagined an 
impersonal force, such as the Polynesian mana, present in the 


whole, unequally distributed between the parts; the spirits 
come in later. If our analyses are correct, what was first con- 
ceived was neither an impersonal force nor spirits already 
individualized: man simply attributed purpose to things and 
events, as if nature had eyes everywhere which she focused 
on man. That this is an original tendency, we can all verify 
when a sudden shock arouses the primitive man dormant 
within us all. What we feel in these cases is the sensation of 
an efficient presence; the nature of this presence is of little 
consequence, the essential point is its efficiency: the moment 
there is any regard for us, even if the intention is not good, 
we begin to count for something in the universe. That is 
what experience tells us. But, even before we consult ex- 
perience, it would seem highly unlikely that humanity should 
have begun by theoretical views of any sort or kind. We shall 
say it over and over again: before man can philosophize man 
must live; it is from a vital necessity that the primeval ten- 
dencies and convictions must have originated. To connect 
religion with a system of ideas, with a logic or a "pre-logic", 
is to turn our remote ancestors into intellectuals, and 
intellectuals such as we ought to be in greater numbers 
ourselves, for we often see the finest theories succumbing to 
passion and interest and only holding good in our hours of 
speculative thought, whereas ancient religions pervaded the 
whole of life. The truth is that religion, being co-extensive 
with our specie,'must"be an effect of our structure. We have 
just now connected it with a fundamental experience; but 
that experience was such that we had an inkling of it before 
encountering it; in any case it is quite easily explained when it 
has been encountered; all we have to do is to put man back 
among living things as a whole, and psychology into biology. 
For, look at any other animal. It avails itself of everything it 
finds useful. Does it actually believe itself to be the centre of 
the world? Probably not, for it has no conception of the world 
as such, and, besides, it has not the slightest inclination to 
speculate. But since it only sees, or at least only takes note of 
what can satisfy its needs, since things exist for it only in so 
far as it makes use of them, it obviously behaves as though 


everything in nature were combined solely with a view to its 
well-being and in the interest of its species. Such is its convic- 
tion, not intellectualized, but lived, a conviction which sus- 
tains the animal and is indistinguishable from its effort to live. 
You bring reflexion into play, however, and this conviction 
will vanish; man will perceive himself, will think of him- 
self as a speck in the immensity of the universe. He would 
feel lost, if the effort to live did not at once project into 
his intelligence, into the very place that this perception and 
this reflexion were about to occupy, the opposing image of 
things and events turning towards man; whether well or ill 
disposed, a certain intention of his environment follows him 
then everywhere, just as the moon seems to run with him when 
he runs. If it be good, he will rely on it. If it bodes harm, he 
will try to avert its effects. In any case, it means that he has 
been taken into account. Here is ho theory, no room for the 
arbitrary. This conviction is forced upon him, there being no 
philosophy about it, but a vital impulsion. 

In like manner, if indeed it splits and evolves into two 
divergent directions, on the one hand towards belief in 
spirits already individualized, and on the other towards the 
idea of an impersonal essence, that is not on account of any 
theory: such reasoning leads to controversy, permits of doubt, 
gives rise to doctrines, which may exert an influence on con- 
duct, but which do not impinge upon all the incidents of 
existence, and could not possibly become the guiding forces of 
life as a whole. The truth is that once the conviction is firmly 
implanted in the will, the latter impels it in these directions 
which are open already, or which open out before it at the 
points of least resistance all along the path of its effort. It will 
utilize in every possible way the intention which it feels to 
be present, either by taking the physical effectiveness which 
the intention possesses, exaggerating its materiality and then 
trying to master it by force, or by approaching it from the 
moral side, by impelling it, on the contrary, ih the direction 
of a personality to be won over by prayer. It is, then, from the 
demands of an efficient magic that there arose a conception 
such as mana, an impoverishment or a materialization of the 


original belief: and it is the desire to obtain favours that drew 
from the same belief, in the opposite direction, spirits and 
gods. Neither has the impersonal evolved towards the per- 
sonal, nor have pure personalities been posited at the out- 
set: but, out of some intermediate thing, intended rather to 
sustain the will than to inform the intelligence, there have 
emerged through dissociation, downwards and upwards, the 
forces that lie beneath the weight of magic, and the gods 
towards whom the voice of human prayer is raised. 

On the first point we have made our opinion clear. We 
should have a heavy task if we had to deal at length with the 
second. The gradual evolution of religion towards gods of 
increasingly marked personality, who are more and more 
definitely interrelated or who tend to become merged into a 
single deity, corresponds to the first of the two great advances 
of humanity towards civilization. It went on until the day 
when the religious spirit turned from the outward to the in- 
ward, from the static to the dynamic, by a change of front 
similar to that performed by pure intelligence when it passed 
over from the study of finite magnitudes to the differential 
calculus. This last change was doubtless the decisive one: 
transformations of the individual became possible, like those 
that have produced the successive species in the organized 
world; progress could thenceforth consist in the creation of 
new qualities, and not as previously in a mere increase in 
size; instead of merely taking what life had to give, just where 
it was, at the point reached, the vital movement was now going 
to be carried forward. We shall deal with this religion, an 
entirely inward one, in the next chapter. We shall see that 
it sustains man by the very movement it imparts to him, 
placing him, as it does, back in the creative impetus, and not 
as hitherto through imaginative representations intended to 
reconcile in him the activity of the parts with the immobility 
of the whole. But we shall also see that religious dynamism 
needs static religion for its expression and diffusion. It is 
therefore comprehensible that the latter should hold first 
place in the history of religions. It is not our business, we 
repeat, to follow static religion through the immense variety 


of its manifestations. It will suffice to indicate the principal 
ones and bring out the connexion between them. 

Let us start then from the idea that there are intentions 
inherent in things: this brings us at once to the representation 
of spirits. They are the vague entities dwelling, for instance, 
in springs, rivers and fountains. Each spirit is bound to the 
spot where it manifests itself. This feature already dis- 
tinguishes it from a divinity proper, which will be able, while 
remaining indivisible, to apportion itself between various 
places, and to hold sway over everything belonging to one 
and the same genus. This divinity will bear a name; it will 
have its own particular shape, its clearly defined personality, 
whereas the countless spirits of the woods and fountains are 
copies of one model and could, at most, say with Horace: 
nos nurnerus sumus. Later on, when religion has attained 
to the height of those exalted personages, the gods, it may 
[well conjure up spirits in their image, such spirits will be 
'minor deities; and they will then appear to have always been 
feo. But this is merely a retroactive effect. It probably took a 
long time, in Greece, for the spirit of a spring to become a 
graceful nymph, and the spirit of the wood a hamadryad. In 
the beginning, the spirit of the spring must have been the 
spring itself, as possessing a beneficent virtue for man. To 
put it more clearly, that beneficent action, in its ever-present 
aspect, was the spirit. It would be an error in such a case to 
regard as an abstract idea I mean an idea extracted from 
things by an intellectual effort the representation of the act 
and of its continuation. It is a datum provided directly by the 
senses. Our philosophy and our language first posit the sub- 
stance and surround it with attributes, and then make such 
and such acts arise therefrom like emanations. But we cannot 
too often repeat that the action may be forthcoming first and 
be self-sufficient, especially in cases where man is particularly 
concerned. Such is the act of supplying us with drink: it can 
be localized in a thing, and then in a person; but it has its own 
independent existence; and if the process goes on indefinitely, 
its very persistence will set it up as the animating spirit of the 
spring at which we drink, whilst the spring, detached from 


the function which it performs, will relapse the more com- 
pletely into the state of a thing pure and simple. It is true 
that the souls of the dead naturally enough join with the 
spirits; though detached from their bodies, they have not yet 
renounced their personality. In mingling with the spirits they 
inevitably colour them and, by the hues with which they 
tinge them, pave the way for them to become persons. Thus, 
by different but converging paths, the spirits will be advanc- 
ing towards a complete personality. But in the elemental 
form which they first possess, they fulfil so natural a need 
that we must not be surprised to find the belief in spirits 
underlying all ancient religions. We spoke of the part it 
played among the Greeks: after being their primitive religion, 
so far as we can judge by the Mycenean civilization, it 
remained the popular religion. It was the basis of the Roman 
religion even after the most generous provision had been 
made for the greater divinities imported from Greece or else- 
where: the larfamiliaris, who was the spirit of the house, was 
always to retain its importance. With the Romans as with the 
Greeks, the goddess called Hestia or Vesta must have begun 
as nothing more than the flame on the hearth, considered in 
its function, I mean in its beneficent intention. Suppose we 
leave classical antiquity and turn to India, and China and 
Japan: everywhere we shall find this belief in spirits; we are 
told that even to-day it constitutes (with ancestor-worship, 
which is very closely akin to it) the essential element of 
Chinese religion. Because it is universal, it was easy to 
belifcve that it was original. Let us at least note that it is not 
very far removed from the original state, and that the human 
mind naturally passes through this belief before attaining to 
the adoration of the gods. 

It might well stop at an intermediate stage. We are 
alluding to the cult of animals, so widespread among past 
humanity that some people have considered it as still more 
natural than the adoration of the gods in human shape. We 
find it, full of life and tenacity, holding its own even in 
countries where man already represents the gods in his own 
image. It survived thus right up to the end in ancient Egypt. 



Sometimes the god that has emerged from the animal form 
refuses to cast it off entirely; his human body is crowned by 
an animal's head. Such things appear to-day very surprising. 
This is mainly because man has become endowed in our eyes 
with an outstanding dignity. We regard intelligence as his 
main characteristic, and we know that there is no superiority 
which intelligence cannot confer on us, no inferiority for 
which it cannot compensate. It was not so in the days before 
intelligence had proved its worth. Its actual inventions were 
too few for its boundless potentialities of invention to be 
apparent; the weapons and tools with which it supplied man 
could hardly stand comparison with those the animal in- 
herited from nature. Even reflexion itself, the secret of man's 
strength, might look like weakness, for it is the source of 
indecision, whereas the reaction of an animal, when it is truly 
instinctive, is instantaneous and unfailing. Even the fact that 
it lacks the power of speech has served the animal by sur- 
rounding it with a halo of mystery. Its silence, moreover, can 
pass for contempt, as though it had something better to do 
than to converse with us. All this explains why humanity 
should have felt no aversion to animal worship. But how has 
it come about? We must note that it is for some specific 
quality that the animal is adored. In ancient Egypt the bull 
represented strength in battle; the lioness, destruction; the 
vulture, so careful of her young, motherhood. Now it would 
be incomprehensible that animals should become the object 
of a cult if man had begun by believing in spirits. But if man 
did not first have recourse to beings, but to beneficent or 
malevolent actions regarded as permanent, it is natural that 
after having gained control of actions, he should have wanted 
to get hold of qualities; these qualities seemed to be present, 
unalloyed, in animals, whose activity is simple, invariably 
consistent and apparently set in one direction. The adoration 
of animals was not, then, the primitive phase of religion; but 
on emerging from that phase, man had the choice between 
the cult of spirits and that of animals. 

Just as the nature of an animal seems to be concentrated 
in one single quality, so it would seem that its individuality 

ii TOTEMISM 155 

merges into a type. To recognize a man is to distinguish him 
from other men; but to recognize an animal is usually to 
identify the species to which it belongs: that is the particular 
character of our interest in each case; consequently in the 
first case our perception seizes on the individual character- 
istics, whereas in the latter it nearly always ignores them. An 
animal, for all it is something concrete and individual, never- 
theless stands forth as essentially a quality, essentially also a 
species. Of these two striking features the first, as we have 
just seen, largely explains the cult of animals. The second 
would account to a certain extent, we believe, for that strange 
thing, totemism. This is not the place to study the question: 
we cannot, however, refrain from saying a word about the 
subject, for if totemism is not animal worship, it nevertheless 
implies that man treats an animal, or even a vegetable species, 
sometimes a mere inanimate object, with a deference which 
is not without some resemblance to religion. Let us take the 
commonest case, that of an animal, a rat or a kangaroo, for 
example, which serves as a " totem", that is to say a patron, 
for a whole clan. The most striking thing is that the members 
of the clan assert they are one with it; they are rats, they are 
kangaroos. True, it remains to be seen in what sense they use 
the word. To conclude straightaway that there is a specific 
logic, peculiar to "primitive man" and exempt from the prin- 
ciple of contradiction, would be somewhat over-hasty. Our 
verb "to be" carries meanings that we have difficulty in 
defining for all our civilization: how can we reconstitute the 
meaning given by a primitive man in such and such a case to 
a similar word, even when he supplies us with explanations? 
These explanations would only possess an element of pre- 
cision if he were a philosopher, and even then we should have 
to know all the fine shades of his language to understand them. 
Think of the opinion he, on his side, would have of us and 
our powers of observation and reasoning, of our common 
sense, if he knew that the greatest of our moralists has said 
"man is a reed that thinks". 1 And besides, does he converse 

1 "L'homme n'est qu'un roseau, le plus faible de la nature, mais c'est 
un roseau pensant" (PASCAL). 


with his totem? Does he treat it as a man? Note that we are 
always being brought back to the same point: to know what 
is going on in the mind of a primitive man, or even of a civilized 
man, we must study -what he does at least as closely as what he 
says. Now, if the primitive man does not identify himself 
with his totem, does he simply take it as an emblem? This 
would be going too far the other way: even if totemism is not 
at the basis of the political organization of non-civilized 
people, as Durkheim would have it, it occupies too large a 
place in their existence for us to see in it merely a means of 
designating the clan. The truth must lie somewhere half-way 
between these two extreme explanations. Let us offer, simply 
as a hypothesis, the interpretation to which we might be led 
by our principles. That a clan is said to be such or such an 
animal, offers no ground for deduction; but that two clans 
within the same tribe must necessarily be two different 
animals is far more enlightening. Let us suppose, indeed, 
that it is desired to indicate these two clans as constituting 
two species, in the biological sense of the word: how is this to 
be managed in cases where the language is not yet instinct 
with science and philosophy? The individual characteristics 
of an animal do not catch our attention; the animal is per- 
ceived, we said, as a species. To express the fact that two 
clans constitute two different species, the name of one animal 
will be given to one, that of another to the other. Each of these 
designations, taken singly, is no more than a label: taken 
together they are equivalent to an affirmation. They indicate 
in fact that the two clans are of different blood. Why is this? 
If totemism is to be found, as we are assured it is, in various 
parts of the globe among communities which can have held 
no possible communication with one another, it must corre- 
spond to a common need of these communities, a vital 
necessity. In fact we know that the clans into which the tribe 
is divided are often exogamous: in other words, marriages 
are contracted between members of different clans, but not 
within one clan. It was even believed for a long time that this 
was a general law, and that totemism always implied exo- 
gamy. Let us suppose that this was so at the beginning, and 

ii TOTEMISM 157 

that in many cases exogamy fell out of use later on. It is easy 
to understand that it is in the interests of nature to prevent 
the members of a tribe from habitually inter-marrying, the 
final result in a closed society such as this being unions 
between near relations: the race would very soon degenerate. 
An instinct, overlaid by quite different habits as soon as it 
ceases to be useful, will predispose the tribe to split up into 
clans, within which marriage will be forbidden. This instinct, 
as a matter of fact, will attain its object by at once causing a 
feeling of relationship between members of the same clan, 
and between clan and clan a feeling of being as foreign as 
possible to each other, for its modus operandi, which we can 
see working in our societies as well, is to diminish the sexual 
attraction between men and women who live together or who 
know they are related. 1 How then will the members of two 
different clans convince themselves, and express the fact, that 
they are not of the same blood? They will get into the habit 
of saying that they are not of the same species. So then, when 
they declare that they constitute two animal species, it is not 
on the animality, but on the duality that they lay the stress. 
At least it must have been so in the beginning. We must in- 
deed admit that we are dealing here merely with the probable, 
not to say with the purely possible. We only want to apply, to 
a very controversial problem, the method which appears to 
us as the surest generally. Starting from a biological necessity, 
we search for the corresponding need in the living creature. 
If this need does not actually create a real and active instinct, 
it conjures up, by means of what we call a virtual or latent 
instinct, an imaginative representation which determines 
conduct in the same way as instinct would have done. At the 
basis of totemism there may well be a representation of this 
sort. 2 

But let us close this parenthesis, opened for an object, of 

1 See, on this subject, Westermarck, History of Human Marriage 
(London, 1901), pp. 290 sqq. 

2 The idea that the class takes its descent from the totem animal an 
idea which M. Van Gennep emphasizes in his interesting work on L'Etat 
actuel du prdblkme totemique (Paris, 1920) may quite well be grafted on 
to the representation we have indicated. 


which it may be said that it deserved better treatment. We 
were dealing with spirits. We believe that, to get at the very 
essence of religion and understand the history of mankind, 
one must needs pass at once from the static and outer religion, 
with which we have been dealing up to now, to that dynamic, 
inner religion which we shall discuss in the next chapter. 
The first was designed to ward off the dangers to which 
intelligence might expose man; it was infra-intellectual. Let 
us add that it was natural, for the human species marks a 
certain stage in the vital evolution: it was here that at a given 
moment the forward movement stopped; man was then 
posited as a whole, with, therefore, his intelligence, with the 
dangers this intelligence might involve, with the myth-making 
function designed to cope with them; magic and elementary 
animism, it all appeared as an unbroken whole, it all corre- 
sponded exactly to the needs of the individual and of society, 
the one and the other limited in their ambitions, such as 
nature intended them. Later, and by an effort which might 
easily never have been made, man wrenched himself free 
from this motion of his on his own axis. He plunged anew 
into the current of evolution, at the same time carrying it 
forward. Here was dynamic religion, coupled doubtless with 
higher intellectuality, but distinct from it. The first form 
of religion had been infra-intellectual; we know why. The 
second, for reasons which we shall indicate, was supra-intel- 
lectual. By contrasting them from the outset, we shall best 
understand them. For these two extreme religions are alone 
essential and pure. The intermediate forms, which developed 
in antique civilizations, could only lead the philosophy of 
religion astray, if they induced the belief that man passed 
from one extremity to the other by the road of gradual perfec- 
tion: doubtless a natural error, explained by the fact that static 
religion has to some extent lingered on into dynamic religion, 
But these intermediate forms have occupied so large a place 
in the known history of humanity that we cannot but dwell 
on them. For our part we see in them nothing absolutely new, 
nothing comparable to dynamic religion, nothing but varia- 
tions on the twofold theme of elementary animism and magic: 


a belief in spirits, after all, has always remained the basis of 
popular religion. But from the myth-making faculty, which 
had elaborated it, there issued, through a later development, 
a mythology round which there grew up a literature, an 
art, institutions, in a word, the essential elements of antique 
civilization. Let us discuss, then, that mythology without ever 
losing sight of that which was its starting-point, and which is 
still visible through it. 

The transition from spirits to gods may be gradual, the 
difference is none the less striking. The god is a person. 
He has his qualities, his defects, his character. He bears a 
name. He stands in definite relationship to other gods. He 
fulfils important functions, and, above all, he is alone in ful- 
filling them. On the contrary, there are thousands of different 
spirits, scattered far and wide over the country, all doing the 
same work; they are described by a common name, and this 
name may, in certain cases, not even possess a singular form: 
manes and penates, to take only these examples, are Latin 
words only found in the plural. If the true original religious 
representation is that of an "effective presence", of an act 
rather than of a person or a thing, belief in spirits lies very 
close indeed to those origins; the gods only appear later, when 
the substantiality, pure and simple, of the spirits rises, in one 
or the other of them, to the level of a personality. These gods 
are superadded to the spirits, but do not replace them. The 
cult of spirits remains, as we Kave said, the basis of popular 
religion. The more enlightened part of the nation will none 
the less prefer the gods, and it may be said that progress 
towards polytheism is an advance towards civilization. 

It is useless to seek for a rhythm or a law in this advance. 
It is essentially capricious. From among the countless spirits 
we see some local deity spring up, modest at first, growing 
with the city, and finally adopted by the whole nation. But 
other evolutions are also possible. It is indeed rare for the 
evolution to end in anything like finality. However exalted 
the god may be, his divinity by no means implies immutability. 
On the contrary, they are the principal gods of antique 
religions that have undergone the greatest changes, enriching 


themselves with new attributes by the absorption of other 
gods, and thus increasing their own substance. In Egypt, for 
example, the sun god Re, at first an object of supreme ador- 
ation, absorbs other. divinities, assimilates them or couples 
himself to them, amalgamates with the great Theban god, 
Ammon, forming in this case Ammon Re. Thus Marduk, 
the god of Babylon, appropriates the attributes of Bel, the 
high god of Nippur. Thus several Assyrian gods are merged 
into the mighty goddess Ishtar. But no evolution is richer 
than that of Zeus, the sovereign god of Greece. After having 
begun probably as the god worshipped on the mountain- 
tops, holding sway over the clouds, and the rain, and the 
thunder, he has added to what we might call his meteorological 
functions certain social attributes which become more and 
more complex; and he ends by being the tutelary god of all 
social groups, from the family to the state. It became neces- 
sary to place after his name the most varied epithets to dis- 
tinguish all the lines of his activity: Xenios, when he watched 
over the observances of hospitality; Horkios, when he pre- 
sided over the swearing of oaths; Hikesios, when he protected 
the supplicants; Genethlios, when he was invoked for a 
marriage, etc. The evolution is generally slow and natural; 
but it can be rapid also, and be effected artificially under the 
very eyes of the worshippers. The divinities of Olympus date 
from the Homeric poems, which did not perhaps create them, 
but in which they were given the forms and the attributes 
under which we know them, and which co-ordinated and 
Srouped them under Zeus, the process this time being rather 
one of simplification than of complication. They were none 
the less accepted by the Greeks, though the latter knew the 
circumstances and almost the date of their birth. But there 
was no need to call in the genius of the poets; a prince's 
decree sufficed to make and unmake gods. Without going 
into the details of such interventions, let us merely recall the 
most radical of them all, that of the Pharaoh who took the 
name of Iknaton: he abolished the gods of Egypt in favour 
of one among them, and succeeded in getting this sort of 
monotheism accepted until the time of his death. We know, 


moreover, that the Pharaohs themselves shared in the divin- 
ity. From the most remote antiquity they styled themselves 
"sons of Re". And the Egyptian tradition of treating the 
sovereign as a god was continued under the Ptolemies. It was 
not confined to Egypt. We meet with it in Syria under the 
Seleucides, in China, in Japan, where the Emperor receives 
divine honours during his lifetime and becomes a god after 
his death, and lastly in Rome, where the Senate deified 
Julius Caesar, before Augustus, Claudius, Vespasian, Titus, 
Nerva, and finally all the Emperors rose to the rank of gods. 
Doubtless the adoration of the sovereign is not taken equally 
seriously everywhere. There is a great distance, for example, 
between the divinity of a Roman Emperor and that of a 
Pharaoh. The latter is closely related to the divinity of the 
chief in primitive societies; it is perhaps connected with the 
idea of a special fluid, or a magic power, supposed to reside 
in the sovereign, whereas the divinity conferred on Caesar 
was a case of mere toadyism, being utilized later by Augustus 
as an instrumentum regni. And yet the half-sceptical attitude 
mingled with the adoration of the Emperors remained, in 
Rome, a prerogative of cultivated minds; it did not extend to 
the people; it certainly did not spread to the provinces. This 
means that the gods of antiquity could be born, die, be trans- 
formed at the whim of man or by circumstances, and that 
pagan faith was limitless in its compliance. 

Precisely because men's fancy and fortuitous circumstances 
have played so large a part in their genesis, the gods cannot be 
fitted into a hard and fast classification. The most we can do 
is to bring out a few main trends of mythological fantasy; and 
even so, no single one has been by any means regularly 
followed. As gods were for the most part set up to serve a 
useful purpose, it is natural that functions should be generally 
attributed to them, and that in many cases the idea of a 
particular function should have predominated. This is what 
occurred in Rome, and it has made it possible to say that the 
specialization of gods was characteristic of Roman religion. 
For the sowing there was Saturn; for the flowering of fruit 
trees, Flora; for the ripening of fruit, Pomona. The guardian- 


ship of the door was attributed to Janus, that of the hearth to 
Vesta. Rather than attribute to the same god a multiplicity 
of interrelated functions, it preferred to set up distinct gods, 
content to give them the same name with varying epithets. 
There was Venus Victrix, Venus Felix, Venus Genetrix. 
Jupiter himself was Fulgur, Feretrius, Stator, Victor, Opti- 
mus Maximus; and these were, up to a certain point, distinct; 
they were milestones along the road, from Jupiter, dispenser 
of rain or sunshine, to Jupiter, protector of the state in peace 
and war. But the same tendency is exhibited everywhere in 
varying degrees. Ever since man began to cultivate the soil, 
there have been gods to watch over the harvest, to dispense 
heat, to ensure the regularity of the seasons. These agricultural 
functions must have been characteristic of some of the most 
ancient deities, even though they have been lost sight of, as 
the evolution of the god made him a complex personality, 
overlaid with a long history. Thus Osiris, the richest figure 
in the Egyptian Pantheon, seems to have been at first the god 
of vegetation. This was the primitive function vested in the 
Adonis of the Greeks. It was also that of Nisaba, in Baby- 
lonia, who held sway over the corn crops before she became 
the goddess of Science. In the first rank of the divinities of 
India figure Indra and Agni. To Indra man owed the rain 
and the storms beneficent for the soil; to Agni, fire, and the 
protection of the domestic hearth; and here again the diversity 
of functions goes with a difference of character, Indra being 
distinguished by his strength, Agni by his wisdom. The most 
exalted function is indeed that of Varuna, who presides over 
the universal order of things. We find in the Shinto religion, 
in Japan, the earth-goddess, the goddess of harvests, the gods 
that watch over the mountains, the trees, etc. But no divinity 
of this type has so marked and complete a personality as the 
Demeter of the Greeks; she too is a goddess of the soil and 
harvests, but she also cares for the dead, to whom she gives a 
place of abode, besides presiding, under the name of Thesmo- 
phoros, over family and social life. There you have the most 
conspicuous development of the god-making fantasy. 

By endowing them with functions, however, it attributes 


to them a sovereignty which quite naturally assumes a terri- 
torial form. The gods are supposed to share the universe 
between them. According to the Vedic poems their various 
spheres of influence are heaven, earth and the middle air. 
In the Babylonian cosmology the sky is the realm of Anu, the 
earth that of Bel; in the depths of the sea dwells Ea. The 
Greeks divided the world between Zeus, god of heaven and 
earth, Poseidon, god of the seas, and Hades, to whom belonged 
the infernal regions. These realms are marked out by nature 
herself. Now the sun, moon and stars are no less distinct in 
outline; they are individualized by their shape as well as by 
their movements, which appear to depend on themselves; one 
of them is the dispenser of life here below, and the others, 
even though they be not equally powerful, must none the less 
be of the same nature; so in them also we find the stuff of 
gods. It is in Assyria that the belief in the divinity of the 
heavenly bodies assumed the most systematic form. But the 
worship of the sun and also of the sky is to be found more or 
less everywhere: in the Shinto religion of Japan, where the 
goddess of the sun is set up as sovereign, with, under her, a 
moon-god and a star-god; in the primitive Egyptian religion, 
where the moon and the sky are considered as gods alongside 
the sun, who is their lord; in the Vedic religion, where Mitra 
(identical with the Iranian Mithra, who is a sun-deity) has 
attributes which would be appropriate to a god of sun or light; 
in the ancient Chinese religion, where the sun is a personal 
god; lastly, among the Greeks themselves, where Helios is 
one of the most ancient gods. Among the Indo-Germanic 
peoples, in general, the sky has been the object of a special 
cult. Under the name of Dyaus, Zeus, Jupiter, Ziu, such a 
god is common to Vedic India, the Greeks and Romans and 
the Teutons, though only in Greece and Rome is he king of 
the gods, like the celestial deity of the Mongols in China. 
Here especially we note the tendencies of the very ancient 
gods, entrusted in the beginning with entirely material tasks, 
to enrich themselves, as they grow older, with moral attributes. 
In Southern Babylonia the sun, who is all-seeing, has become 
the guardian of right and justice; he receives the title of 


"judge". The Vedic Mitra is the champion of truth and right; 
he gives victory to the righteous cause. And the Egyptian 
Osiris, who has become one with the sun-god after having 
been the god of vegetation, has ended by being the great 
judge, merciful and just, who reigns over the land of the 

All these gods are closely connected with things. But there 
are others often the same ones seen from a different angle 
that are defined by their connexion with persons or groups. 
Are we to consider as a god the personal genius or daemon of 
a particular individual? The Roman genius was numen> not 
deus\ it had neither shape nor name; it was very near to that 
mere "effective presence" which we have seen to be the 
primitive and essential element of divinity. The personality 
of the lar familiaris y who watched over the family, was scarcely 
more marked. But the bigger the group, the stronger its right 
to a real god. In Egypt, for example, each of the primitive 
cities had its divine guardian. And these gods were distin- 
guished one from the other precisely by their connexion with 
this or that community; to call them "He of Edfu", "He of 
Nekkeb", was clear enough. But in most cases they were 
deities who existed before the group, and whom the latter had 
adopted. This was the case, in Egypt itself, for Amon-Re, 
god of Thebes. It was the same in Babylonia, where the city 
of Ur has as its goddess the moon, the city of Uruk the 
planet Venus. It was the same in Greece, where Demeter 
was particularly at home in Eleusis, Athene on the Acropolis, 
Artemis in Arcadia. Often protectors and protected stood or 
fell together; the gods of a city gained by the aggrandisement 
of that city. War thus became a struggle between rival deities. 
The latter might indeed come to terms, and the gods of the 
conquered people then entered the pantheon of the victor. 
But the truth is that the city or the empire on the one hand, 
and its tutelary gods on the other, formed an undefined 
partnership, which must have varied indefinitely in character. 

Nevertheless, it is for our own convenience that we thus 
define and classify the gods of fable. No law governed their 
birth, any more than their development; in this case humanity 


has given free play to its instinct for myth-making. Doubtless 
this instinct does not go very far when left to itself, but it 
progresses unceasingly if one is pleased to exercise it. The 
differences are very great, on this point, between the myth- 
ologies of different peoples. Classical antiquity shows us an 
example of this opposition: Roman mythology is poor, that 
of the Greeks superabundant. The gods of ancient Rome 
coincide with the functions with which they are clothed and 
are thus, so to speak, immobilized in them. They barely 
possess a body, I mean an imaginable shape. They are barely 
gods. On the contrary each god of ancient Greece has his 
physiognomy, his character, his history. He moves about, does 
things quite outside the mere performance of his functions. 
His adventures are told, his intervention in our affairs de- 
scribed. He lends himself to every fancy of the artist and the 
poet. He would be, more accurately, a character in a novel, if 
it were not that he had a power greater than that of mortal 
man and the privilege, at least in certain cases, of interfering 
with the regular working of the laws of nature. In a word, 
the myth-making function of the mind has in the first case 
stopped short, in the second it has continued its work. But it 
remains the same function. It will resume, if need be, the 
interrupted work. This is what happened with the introduction 
of Greek literature, and more generally of Greek ideas, into 
Rome. We know how the Romans identified some of their 
gods with those of Hellas, thus endowing them with a more 
marked personality, and changing them from immobility to 

We have said of this myth-making function that it would 
be wrong to define it as a variant of imagination. This last 
word has a somewhat negative meaning. We call imaginative 
any concrete representation which is neither perception nor 
memory. Since such representations depict neither a present 
object nor a past thing, they are all considered in the same 
light by common sense and given the same name in ordinary 
speech. But the psychologist must not for that reason group 
them in the same category, or connect them with the same 
function. Let us then leave aside imagination, which is but 


a word, and consider a very clearly defined faculty of the 
mind, that of creating personalities whose stories we relate 
to ourselves. It is singularly vivid in novelists and dramatists. 
There are some among them who become really obsessed by 
their hero; it is he who controls them, not they who control 
him; they even have difficulty in getting rid of him when they 
have finished their play or their novel. These writers are not 
necessarily those whose work is of the highest quality; but, 
better than others, they enable us to put our finger on the 
existence, at least in some of us, of a special faculty of volun- 
tary hallucination. In truth, it is found, to some degree, in 
everyone. It is very vivid in children. We find a child keeping 
up a daily intercourse with some imaginary person, whose 
name he can give, whose impressions about every incident of 
the day he can repeat to you. But the same faculty comes 
into play in those who, without creating fictitious beings for 
themselves, are as interested in fictions as in real things. 
What sight is there more amazing than that of a theatre 
audience in tears? We shall be told that the play is being 
performed by actors and that human beings of flesh and 
blood are on the stage. Agreed, but we can be almost as 
completely "gripped" by the novel we are reading, and 
sympathize just as keenly with the people whose story is 
being told us. How is it that psychologists have not been 
struck by the mysterious element in such a faculty as this? 
The answer will be that all our faculties are mysterious, 
inasmuch as we are ignorant of the inner mechanism of 
them. True, but this is no question of mechanical recon- 
struction, we are entitled to ask for a psychological explana- 
tion. And the explanation is the same in psychology as in 
biology: the existence of a function is accounted for, when we 
have shown how and why it is necessary to life. Now novelists 
and dramatists are certainly not necessities; the myth-making 
faculty in general does not correspond to a vital need. But let 
us suppose that on one particular point, when utilized for a 
given object, this function be indispensable to the existence 
of individuals as well as of societies: we can easily understand 
that, while designed for this work, for which it is indispens- 


able, it should be further employed, since it is still there, for 
mere amusement. As a matter of fact, we pass quite easily 
from the novel of to-day to more or less ancient tales, to 
legends, to folklore, and from folklore to mythology, which is 
not the same thing, but which was developed in the same way; 
mythology, in its turn, merely develops the personalities of 
the gods into a story, and this last creation is but the exten- 
sion of another and simpler one, that of the "semi-personal 
powers " or "efficient presences" which are, we believe, at the 
origin of religion. Here we get at what we have shown to be 
a fundamental demand of life: this demand has called into 
being the myth-making faculty; the myth-making function is 
thus to be deduced from the conditions of existence of the 
human species. Without going back over what we have already 
stated at great length, let us recall that, in the realm of life, 
what appears under analysis to be an infinitely complex 
presents itself to intuition as an undivided act. The act might 
quite well not have been performed; but, if it is performed, 
then it has, in one stride, got across all the obstacles. These 
obstacles, each one of which raised up another, constitute an 
endless multiplicity, and it is precisely with the removal, one 
after the other, of all these obstacles that our analysis has to 
deal. To try and explain each of these processes of elimina- 
tion by the preceding one would be going the wrong way to 
work; they are all to be explained by one single operation, 
which is the act itself in its simplicity. Thus the undivided 
movement of the arrow triumphs at one sweep over the 
innumerable obstacles which our perception, assisted by 
Zeno's reasoning, thinks it detects in the immobility of 
the points making up the line of flight. Thus, too, the un- 
divided act of vision, by the mere fact of succeeding, over- 
comes at a stroke thousands and thousands of obstacles; 
this act of circumvention is what is apparent to our percep- 
tion and to our science in the multiplicity of cells constituting 
the eye, the intricateness of our visual apparatus, in short, 
the endless series of mechanisms which are at work in the 
process of seeing. Posit in the same way the human species, 
that is to say the sudden leap by which life in its evolution 


came to man, both individual and social, you will then be 
positing a tool-contriving intelligence and consequently an 
effort which is bound to go on, of its own momentum, beyond 
the mere tool-makiug operation for which it was intended; 
and this creates a danger. If the human species does exist, 
it is because the very act which posited man with his tool- 
contriving intelligence, with the necessary continuation of 
his intellectual effort, and the danger arising from such a 
continuation, begot the myth-making function. The latter 
was not, then, purposed by nature; and yet it sprang up 
naturally. If, indeed, we add it to all the other psychical 
functions, we find that the sum total expresses in a multiple 
form the indivisible act by which life leapt onwards to man, 
from that rung of the ladder at which it had stopped. 

But let us look more closely into the reason why the myth- 
making function imposes its inventions with exceptional 
force when working in the realm of religion. There, without 
any doubt, it is at home; it is made for the creation of spirits 
and gods; but since it continues its myth-making work else- 
where, we must ask why, though operating in the same way, 
it no longer commands the same credence. We may find two 
reasons for this. 

The first is that, where religion is concerned, the adherence 
of each individual is reinforced by the adherence of all. Even 
in the theatre, the spectator's ready acceptance of the drama- 
tist's suggestions is singularly increased by the attention and 
the interest of the society in which he finds himself. But in 
this case we have a society just the size of the hall, and 
enduring only just as long as the play lasts: what if the 
individual belief is supported, confirmed by a whole people, 
and if it rests both on the past and on the present? What if 
the god is sung by poets, if he dwells in temples, if he is 
portrayed by art? So long as experimental science is not 
firmly established, there will be no surer guarantee of the 
truth than universal assent. Nay, truth will as a rule be this 
very assent. We may note, by the way, that this is one of the 
causes of intolerance. The man who does not accept the 
common belief prevents it, while he dissents, from being 


utterly true. Truth will only regain its entirety if he retracts 
or disappears. 

We do not mean to say that religious belief can never have 
been, even in polytheism, an individual belief. Each Roman 
had a genius attached to his person; but he only believed so 
firmly in his genius because every other Roman had his own 
genius, and because his faith, personal on this point, was 
guaranteed to him by a universal faith. We do not mean to 
say either that religion has ever been social in essence rather 
than individual: we have, indeed, seen that the myth-making 
function, innate in the individual, has as its first object the 
consolidation of society; but we know that it is also intended 
to support the individual himself, and that, moreover, such is 
the interest of society. As a matter of fact, the individual and 
society are implied in each other: individuals make up society 
by their grouping together; society shapes an entire side of 
the individual by being prefigured in each one of them. The 
individual and society thus condition each other, circle-wise. 
The circle, intended by nature, was broken by man the day 
he became able to get back into the creative impetus, and 
impel human nature forward instead of letting it revolve on 
one spot. From that day there dates an essentially individual 
religion, one that has become thereby, it is true, more pro- 
foundly social. But we shall revert to this point. Let us only 
say that the guarantee brought by society to individual belief, 
in the matter of religion, would suffice in itself to put these 
inventions of the myth-making function in a unique position. 

Biit we must bear yet another thing in mind. We have seen 
how the ancients witness, unconcerned, the birth of this or 
that god. Thenceforth they would believe in him as they did 
in all the others. This would be incredible, if we supposed 
that the existence of their gods was of the same nature to 
thefii as the objects they saw and touched: It was real, but 
with a reality that yet hinged in some degree on the human 

The gods of pagan civilization are indeed distinguishable 
from older entities, elves, gnomes, spirits, which popular 
belief never actually abandoned. The latter were the almost 



direct product of that myth-making faculty which is natural 
to us; and they were naturally adopted, just as they had been 
naturally produced. They conformed exactly to the need from 
which they sprang. But mythology, which is an amplification 
of primitive activity, extends beyond this need in all direc- 
tions. The interval it leaves between this need and itself is 
filled with a matter in the choice of which human fancy has a 
large share, and this affects the assent accorded to it. It is 
always the same faculty intervening, and it obtains for its 
inventions, as a whole, the same credence. But each invention, 
taken separately, is accepted with the reservation that another 
would have been possible. The pantheon exists, independent 
of man, but on man depends the placing of a god in it, and 
the bestowal of existence on that deity. Such an attitude of 
mind does indeed surprise us to-day. Yet we lapse into it 
ourselves in certain dreams, where we can introduce, at a 
certain moment, the incident we desire: thus a part comes 
into being through us, whilst the whole has its own existence 
independent of us. In just the same way it could be said that 
each distinct god is contingent, whereas the gods as a whole, 
or rather the godhead in general, is necessary. If we were to 
delve into this point, by pushing logic further than did the 
ancients, we should find that there has never been any 
absolute pluralism other than the belief in spirits, and that 
polytheism, strictly speaking, along with its mythology, 
implies a latent monotheism, in which the multiple deities 
exist only secondarily, as representatives of the divine. 

But the ancients would have held such considerations to be 
unessential, such as would only be important if religion 
belonged to the realm of knowledge or contemplation. In that 
case a mythological tale could be treated like a historical 
narrative, and in the one case as in the other the question 
of authenticity might arise. But the truth is that there is no 
possible comparison between them, because they are not of 
the same order. History is knowledge, religion is mainly 
action: it only concerns knowledge, as we have repeated over 
and over again, in so far as an intellectual representation is 
needed to ward off the dangers of a certain intellectuality. 


To consider this representation apart, to criticize it as a 
representation, would be to forget that it forms an amalgam 
with the accompanying action. We commit just such an error 
when we ask ourselves how it is that great minds can have 
accepted the tissue of childish imaginings, nay, absurdities, 
which made up their religion. The movements of a swimmer 
would appear just as silly and ridiculous to anyone forgetting 
that the water is there, that this water sustains the swimmer, 
and that the man's movements, the resistance of the liquid, 
the current of the river, must be taken all together as an 
undivided whole. 

Religion supplies strength and discipline.' For that reason' 
regularly repeated exercises are necessary, like those whose 
automatism ends by instilling into the body of the soldier 
the confidence he will need in the hour of danger. This means 
that there is no religion without rites and ceremonies. The 
religious representation is above all an occasion for these 
religious acts. They doubtless emanate from belief, but they 
at once react on it and strengthen it: if gods exist, they must 
have their worship; but since there is \vorship, then there must 
be gods. This solidarity of the god with the homage paid 
him makes of religious truth a thing apart, having no common 
measure with speculative truth, and depending, up to a cer- 
tain point, on man. 

It is precisely towards the tightening up of this solidarity 
that rites and ceremonies tend. One might dilate on them at 
length. We shall merely touch on the two principal ones, 
sacrifice and prayer. 

^"Tn'tlie religion which we shall call dynamic, verbal expres 
sion is immaterial to prayer, an elevation of the soul that car 
dispense with speech. In its lowest form, on the other hanc , 
it was not unlike the incantations of magic; it then aimed, ' 
not at compelling the will of the gods and above all of th e 
spirits, at least at capturing their goodwill. Prayer, as undei 
stood in polytheism, generally finds its place half- way betwee: i 
these two extremities. No doubt antiquity hit upon admirabl \ 
forms of prayer, in which there was manifested an aspiratioi 
of the soul to improvement. But these were exceptions and, 


as it were, anticipations of a purer religious belief. Poly- 
theism more generally imposes on prayer a stereotyped form, 
with the latent idea that it is not only the significance of the 
phrasing, but also the sequence of the words, together with 
all the accompanying gestures, which impart to it its efficacy. 
We may even say that the more polytheism evolves, the more 
particular it becomes on this point; the agency of a priest 
becomes more and more indispensable to ensure the school- 
ing of the believer. How can we fail to see that this habit of 
prolonging the idea of the god, once evoked, through pre- 
scribed words and set attitudes, endows his image with a 
higher objectivity? We have shown elsewhere that what con- 
stitutes the reality of a perception, what distinguishes it from 
a figment of the imagination, is, above all, the whole group 
of incipient movements which it communicates to the body, 
and which complete this perception by the automatic begin- 
nings of an action. Movements of this kind may develop 
owing to some other cause: but their actuality will flow back 
just the same towards the representation that produced them, 
and will practically convert it into a thing. 

As to sacrifice, it was, doubtless, to begin with, an offering 
made with a view to buying the favour of the god, or turning 
aside his wrath. If so, the greater the cost and the more 
valuable the thing sacrificed, the more acceptable it was likely 
to be. This is probably the explanation, at least in part, of the 
custom of human sacrifice, a custom to be found in most 
ancient religions, perhaps in all, could we trace them back 
far enough. There is no limit to the extent of error, or of 
horror, to which logic may lead, when it is applied to matters 
not pertaining to pure intelligence. But there is something 
else in sacrifice: otherwise there would be no explaining why 
the offering had to be animal or vegetable, nearly always 
animal. To begin with, it is generally agreed that sacrifice 
originated in a repast of which the god and his worshippers 
were supposed to partake in common. Next, above all, there 
was a special virtue in blood. As the principle of life, it gave 
the god strength, and enabled him the better to help man, and 
perhaps also (but this was a barely conscious idea) it ensured 


to him a more substantial existence. It was, like prayer, a link 
between man and the deity. 

Thus polytheism with its mythology had the twofold effect 
of exalting more and more the invisible powers with which 
man is surrounded, and of putting man in ever closer contact 
with them. Being co-extensive with the ancient civilizations, 
it battened on everything they produced, having inspired 
literature and art, whence it received still more than it gave. 
This means that religious feeling, in antiquity, was made up 
of many elements, varying from people to people, but which 
have all grouped themselves round an original nucleus. We 
have concentrated on this nucleus, because we wished to bring 
out the specifically religious element in antique religions. To 
some of them, those of India and Persia, a philosophy has 
been superadded. But philosophy and religion always remain 
distinct. More often than not, indeed, philosophy only comes 
into existence to satisfy more cultivated minds; religion lives 
on, among the people, in the way we have described. Even 
in those cases where the two are mingled, the elements keep 
their individuality: religion will have moments when it is 
inclined to speculate, philosophy will not shun all idea of 
action; but the first will none the less remain essentially 
action, the second, above all, thought. In those cases where 
religion really became philosophy among the ancients, it 
rather discouraged action, and renounced what it had come 
into the world to accomplish. Was it still religion? We may 
attribute what meaning we like to words, so long as we define 
their meaning first; but it would be a mistake to do so when 
we happen to be dealing with a word which corresponds to 
a natural cutting-up of continuous reality: the most we can 
do then is to exclude from the extension of the term such or 
such a thing which had become accidentally included in it. 
Such is the case with religion. We have shown how this name 
is ordinarily applied to representations directed towards 
action, and called forth by nature for a clearly defined pur- 
pose; it may be that exceptionally, and for obvious reasons, 
the meaning of the word has been extended so as to include 
some other object; religion must none the less be defined 


in conformity with what we have called the intention of 

We have explained more than once what is meant in this 
case by intention. We have also dwelt at length in this chapter 
on the function that nature has assigned to religion. Magic, 
animal or spirit worship, worship of gods, mythology, super- 
stitions of all kinds, seem very complex, if we take them 
one at a time. But, taken all together, they make up a whole 
which is extremely simple. 

Man is the only animal whose actions are uncertain, who 
hesitates, gropes about and lays plans in the hope of success 
and the fear of failure. He is alone in realizing that he is 
subject to illness, alone in knowing that he must die. The 
rest of nature goes on its expanding course in absolute tran- 
quillity. Although plants and animals are the sport of chance, 
they rely on the passing hour as they would on eternity. We 
drink in something of this unshakable confidence during a 
country walk, from which we return quieted and soothed. But 
this is not saying enough. Of all the creatures that live in 
society, man alone can swerve from the social line by giving 
way to selfish preoccupations when the common good is at 
stake; in all other societies the interests of the individual are 
inexorably co-ordinate with and subordinate to the general 
interest. This twofold shortcoming in man is the price paid 
for intelligence. Mao^cannot exert. lus, faculty of thought 
without imagining an uncertain future, which rouses his fears 
and his hopes. He cannot think about what nature demands 
of him, in so far as she has made a social being of him, with- 
out saying to himself that he might often find it more profit- 
able to ignore others and to think of himself alone. In both 
cases there would be a break of the normal, natural order of 
things. And yet it was nature who ordained intelligence, who 
placed it at the end of one of the two great lines of evolution 
as a counterpart to the highest form of instinct, which is the 
terminal point of the other. It is impossible that she should 
not have taken the precaution to see that a condition of order, 
having been disturbed ever so slightly by intelligence, should 
tend to re-establish itself automatically. As a matter of fact, 


the myth-making function, which belongs to intelligence, and 
which yet is not pure intelligence, has precisely this object. 
Its role is to elaborate that religion we have been dealing 
with up to now, that which we call static, and of which we 
should say that it was natural religion," ifThe term were not 
used in another sense. We have then only to sum up what we 
have said to define this religion in clear terms. It is a defensive 
reaction of nature against what might be depressing for the 
individual, and dissolvent for society, in the exercise of intelligence. 
Let us conclude with two remarks, to forestall two mis- 
understandings. When we say that one of the functions of 
religion, as it was^ordained by nature, is to. maintain social 
life, we do not mean by this that there should be solidarity 
between such a religion and morality. History is witness to 
the contrary. To sin has always been to offend the deity; but 
the deity has by no means always been offended by immorality 
or even crime; there have been cases where he has prescribed 
them. True, humanity seems in general to have wished its 
gods to be good; it has often placed the different virtues under 
their patronage; it may even be that the coincidence we pointed 
out between original morality and primeval religion, both 
alike rudimentary, has left in the depths of the human soul 
the vague ideal of a more developed morality and an organized 
religion dependent the one on the other. It is none the less 
true that morality has taken definite shape along its own lines, 
that religions have evolved along theirs, and that men have 
always accepted their gods from tradition without asking 
them for a certificate of good conduct, nor expecting them to 
guarantee the moral order. But a distinction must be drawn 
between social obligations of a very general character, without 
which no life in common would be possible, and the particular 
concrete social tie which causes the members of a particular 
social community to be intent on its preservation. The first 
have little by little emerged from the confused background 
of customs which we have found at the outset; they have 
emerged through purification and simplification, through 
abstraction and generalization, to form a social morality. But 
what binds together the members of a given society is tradi- 


'tion, the need and the determination to defend the group 
against other groups and to set it above everything. To pre- 
serve, to tighten this bond is incontestably one aim of the 
religion we have found to be natural; it is common to the 
members of a group, it associates them intimately with each 
other in rites and ceremonies, it disfhiguishes the group from 
other groups, it guarantees the success of the common enter- 
prise and is an assurance against the common danger. The 
fact that religion, such as it issued from the hands of nature, 
has simultaneously fulfilled, to use the language of the day, 
the two functions moral and national, appears to us unques- 
tionable, for these two functions were inevitably undifferenti- 
ated in rudimentary societies where custom existed alone. 
But that societies, as they developed, should have carried 
religion with them in the second direction, will be easily 
understood by reference to what we have just explained. In 
fact, the conclusion might have been reached immediately 
considering that the human societies, at the end of one of the 
great lines of biological evolution, form the counterpart to 
the most perfectly developed animal societies, placed at the 
extremity of the other great line, and that the myth-making 
function, though not an instinct, plays in human societies a 
part exactly corresponding to that of instinct in these animal 

Our second remark, which we might well refrain from 
making after all we have so often repeated, concerns the mean- 
ing we give to the "intention of nature", an expression we 
have used in speaking of "natural religion". As a matter of 
fact, we were dealing less with this religion itself than with 
the effect it produced. There is an impetus of life which rushes 
through matter and wrests from it what it can, for that very 
reason dispersing itself on its way. At the extremity of the 
two main lines of evolution thus established lie intelligence 
and instinct. Precisely because intelligence is a success, as 
indeed instinct is too, it cannot be posited without the ac- 
companiment of a tendency to eliminate any obstacle to the 
production of its full effect. This tendency forms with intel- 
ligence, as with all presupposed by intelligence, an undivided 


whole, which becomes divisible when coming within the scope 
of our faculty which is entirely relative to the intelligence 
itself of perception and analysis. Let us revert to what has 
been said about the eye and sight. We have the act of seeing, 
which is simple, and we have an infinity of elements, and of 
reciprocal actions of these elements on each other, by means 
of which the anatomist and the physiologist reconstitute that 
simple act. Elements and actions express analytically and so 
to speak negatively, being resistances opposed to resistances, 
the indivisible act, alone positive, which nature has effectively 
obtained. In the same way the anxieties of man, cast upon 
this earth, and the temptations the individual may have to 
put his interests before those of the community anxieties 
and temptations which are peculiar to an intelligent being 
could lend themselves to endless enumeration. Indefinite 
in number also are the forms of superstition, or rather of 
static religion, which resist these resistances. But the com- 
plexity vanishes if we place man back in nature as a whole, if 
we consider that intelligence is apt to be an obstacle to the 
serenity we find everywhere else, and that the obstacle must 
be surmounted, the balance restored. Regarded from this 
point of view, which is that of a genesis and no longer that of 
an analysis, all the elements of disquiet and weakness entailed 
in the application of intelligence to life, with all the peace 
brought by religions, become a perfectly simple thing. Unrest 
and myth-making counteract and nullify each other. In the 
eyes of a god, looking down from above, the whole would 
appear indivisible, like the perfect confidence of flowers un- 
folding to the spring. 



LET us cast a glance backward at Life, this life which we had 
previously followed in its development up to the point where 
religion was destined to emerge from it. A great current of 
creative energy is precipitated into matter, to wrest from it 
what it can. At most points, remember, it carne to a stop; 
these stops are equivalent, in our eyes, to the phenomena of 
so many living species, that is to say, of organisms in which 
our perception, being essentially analytical and synthetic, dis- 
tinguishes a multitude of elements combining to fulfil a multi- 
tude of functions; yet the work of organization was but the 
step itself, a simple act, like the making of a footprint, which 
instantly causes a myriad grains of sand to cohere and form 
a pattern. Along one of these lines, the one along which it 
succeeded in going furthest, we might have thought that this 
vital energy, carrying the best of itself with it, would go 
straight on; but it swerved inward, and the whole circle 
reformed: certain creatures emerged whose activity ran in- 
definitely in the same circle, whose organs were ready-made 
instruments and left no room for the ceaselessly renewed 
invention of tools, whose consciousness lapsed into the 
somnambulism of instinct instead of bracing itself and revital- 
izing itself into reflective thought. Such is the condition of 
the individual in those insect societies where organization is 
highly perfected, but the effect of it is sheer automatism. 

The creative effort progressed successfully only along that 
line of evolution which ended in man. In its passage through 
matter, consciousness assumed in that case, as it were from 
a mould, the shape of tool-making intelligence. And inven- 
tion, which carries reflexion with it, was at liberty to develop. 

But intelligence was not without its dangers. Up to that 
point, all living creatures had drunk greedily of the cup of 



life. They lapped up with relish the honey which nature had 
smeared on the rim; they were prepared to gulp down the 
rest blindly. Not so intelligence, which peered into the bottom 
of the cup. For the intelligent being was not living in the present 
alone; there can be no reflexion without foreknowledge, no 
foreknowledge without apprehension, no apprehension with- 
out a momentary slackening of the attachment to life. Above 
all, there is no humanity without society, and society demands 
of the individual an abnegation which the insect, in its auto- 
matism, carries to the point of an utter obliviousness of self. 
Reflexion cannot be relied upon to keep up this selflessness. 
Intelligence, except it be that of a suble utilitarian philosopher, 
would more likely counsel egoism. Thus, from two directions 
it called for a counterpoise. Or rather it was already provided 
with one, for nature, we repeat, does not make her creatures 
piecemeal; what is multiple in its manifestation may well be 
simple in its genesis. A new species coming on to the scene 
brings with it, in the indivisibility of the act creating it, all 
the elements that impart life to it. The very check of the 
creative impetus which has expressed itself in the creation of 
our species has provided, along with intelligence, within 
human intelligence, the myth-making function that contrives 
the pattern of religions. That then is the office, that is the 
significance of the religion we have called static or natural. 
Religion is that element which, in beings endowed with 
reason, is called upori to make good any deficiency of attach- , 
ment to life. 

It is true that the possibility of another solution at once 
occurs to the mind. Static religion, such as we find it when it 
stands alone, attaches man to life, and consequently the 
individual to society, by telling him tales on a par with those 
with which we lull children to sleep. Of course they are not 
like other stories. Being produced by the myth-making func- 
tion in response to an actual need and not for mere pleasure, 
they counterfeit reality as actually perceived, to the point of 
making us act accordingly: other creations of the imagination 
have this same tendency, but they do not demand our com- 
pliance; they can remain just ideas; whereas the former are 


ideo-motory. They are none the less myths, which critical 
minds, as we have seen, often accept in fact, but which they 
should, by rights, reject. The active, moving principle, whose 
mere stopping at an extreme point expresses itself in mankind, 
doubtless requires of all created species that they cling to life. 
But, as we have previously shown, if this principle produces 
all species in their entirety, as a tree thrusts out on every side 
branches which end in buds, it is the depositing, in matter, 
of a freely creative energy, it is man, or some other being of 
like significance we do not say of like form which is the 
explanation of the entire process of evolution. The whole 
might have been vastly superior to what it is, and this is 
probably what happens in worlds where the current rushes 
through matter less refractory than ours: just as the current 
might never have found a free outlet even to this inadequate 
extent in which case the quality and quantity of creative 
energy represented by the human species would never have 
been released at all on our planet. But whichever way we look 
at it, life is a thing at least as desirable, even more desirable, 
to man than to the other species, since the latter receive at 
as the effect, produced in passing, by the creative energy, 
whereas in man life is that successful effort itself, however 
precarious and incomplete this success may be. This being so, 
why should man not recover the confidence he lacks, or which 
has perhaps been undermined by reflexion, by turning back 
for fresh impetus, in the direction whence that impetus came? 
Not through intelligence, at least not through intelligence 
alone, could he do so: intelligence would be more likely to 
proceed in the opposite direction; it was provided for a 
definite object, and when it attempts speculation on a higher 
plane, it enables us, at the most, to conceive possibilities, it 
does not attain any reality. But we know that all around 
intelligence there lingers still a fringe of intuition, vague and 
evanescent. Can we not fasten upon it, intensify it, and above 
all, consummate it in action, for it has become pure contem- 
plation only through a weakening in its principle, and, if we 
may put it so, by an abstraction practised on its own sub- 


A soul strong enough, noble enough to make this effort 
would not stop to ask whether the principle with which it is 
now in touch is the transcendant cause of all things or merely 
its earthly delegate. It would be content to feel itself pervaded, 
though retaining its own personality, by a being immeasur- 
ably mightier than itself, just as an iron is pervaded by the 
fire which makes it glow. Its attachment to life would hence- 
forth be its inseparability from this principle, joy in joy, love 
of that which is all love. In addition it would give itself to 
society, but to a society comprising all humanity, loved in the 
love of the principle underlying it. The confidence which static 
religion brought to man would thus be transfigured: no more 
thought for the morrow, no more anxious heart-searching; 
materially the object would no longer be worth while, and 
morally would take on too high a significance. Now detach- 
ment from each particular thing would become attachment 
to life in general. But should we, in such a case, still speak of 
religion? Or were we right to have used the word before for 
all the preceding argument? Are not the two things so different 
as to exclude each other, and to make it impossible to call 
them by the same name? 

Yet there are many reasons for using the word religion in 
both cases. In the first place mysticism for that is what we 
have in mind may, it is true, lift the soul to another plane: 
it none the less ensures for the soul, to a pre-eminent degree, 
the security and the serenity which it is the function of static 
religion to provide. But we must above all bear in mind that 
pure mysticism is a rare essence, that it is generally found in a 
diluted form, that even then it still gives to the substance 
with which it mingles its colour and fragrance, and that it 
must be taken together with the substance, to be regarded as 
practically inseparable from it, if it is to be observed in its 
active state since it was in this state that it finally imposed 
its sway upon the world. Looking at it from this angle, we 
should perceive a series of transitions, and, as it were, differ- 
ences of degree, whereas really there is a radical difference of 
nature. Let us go back briefly over each of these points. 

In defining mysticism by its relation to the vital impetus, 


we have implicitly admitted that true mysticism is rare. We 
shall deal presently with its significance and its value. Let 
us confine ourselves for the moment to noting that it lies, 
according to the above, at a point which the spiritual current, 
in its passage through matter, probably desired to reach _biit 
could not. For it makes light of obstacles with which nature 
has hacLta. jcome^.tQ..texna& and, on the other hand, we can 
only understand the evolution of life, setting aside any by- 
paths it has been compelled to follow, if we view it as seeking 
for something beyond its reach, something to which the great 
mystic attains. If all men, if any large number of men, could 
have soared as high as this privileged man, nature would not 
have stopped at the human species, for such a one is in fact 
more than a man. The same can be said of other forms of 
genius: they are one and all rare. It is not by chance, then, 
it is by reason of its very essence that true mysticism is 

But when it does call, there is in the innermost being of 
most men the whisper of an echo. Mysticism reveals, or 
rather would reveal to us, if we actually willed it, a marvellous 
prospect: we do not, and in most cases we could not, will it; 
we should collapse under the strain. Yet the spell has worked; 
and just as when an artist of genius has produced a work which 
is beyond us, the spirit of which we cannot grasp, but which 
makes us feel how commonplace were the things we used to 
admire, in the same way^tatic religion, though it may still Jbe 
there, is no longer what it was, above all it no longer dares tp 
assert itself, when truly great mysticism comes on the scene. 
To static religion, mainly at any rate, humanity^mll still turn 
for the support of which it is in need; it will leave the myth- 
making function, remoulding it as best it can, to go on with 
its work; in a word, man's confidence in life will remain much 
the same as it was ordained by nature. But he will sincerely 
feign to have sought and indeed to some extent to have found 
that contact with the very principle of nature which expresses 
itself in quite a different attachment to life, in a transfigured 
confidence. Incapable of rising to these heights, he will go 
through the motions, assume the appropriate attitudes and 


in his speech reserve the foremost place for certain formulae 
which he can never see filled with their whole meaning, the 
whole operation being reminiscent of some ceremony where 
certain chairs, reserved for high dignitaries, are standing 
empty. Thi^jrnay arise a mixed religion, implying a new 
direction given to the old, the more or less marked aspiration 
of the ancient god, emanating from the myth-making func- 
tion, to be merged into the God Who effectively reveals 
Himself, Who illuminates and warms privileged souls with 
His presence. Thus do we find interposed, as we were sug- 
gesting, transitions and differences, ostensibly of degree, 
between two things which are as a matter of fact radically 
different in nature and which, at first sight, we can hardly 
believe deserve the same name. The contrast is striking in 
many cases, as for instance when nations at war each declare 
that they have God on their side, the deity in question thus 
becoming the national god of paganism, whereas the God 
they imagine they are evoking is a God common to all man- 
kind, the mere vision of Whom, could all men but attain it, 
would mean the immediate abolition of war. And yet we should 
not, on the strength of this contrast, disparage religions born 
ojjj^ticjsm, which have generalized the use of its formulae 
and yet have been unable to pervade all humanity with the 
full measure of its spirit. It sometimes happens that wellnigh 
empty formulae, the veriest magical incantations, contrive to 
summon up here and there the spirit capable of imparting 
substance to them. An indifferent schoolmaster, mechanic- 
ally teaching a science created by men of genius, may awaken 
in one of his pupils the vocation he himself has never pos- 
sessed, and change him unconsciously into an emulator of 
those great men, who are invisible and present in the message 
he is handing on. 

Yet there is a difference between the two cases, and if we 
take it into account, we shall notice, in the matter of religion, 
a gradual disappearance of the opposition between the static 
and the dynamic, on which we have just insisted in order to 
bring out the characteristics of the two religions. The great 
majority of men may very well know practically nothing 


about mathematics and yet admire the genius of a Descartes 
or a Newton. But those who have, from afar off, bowed their 
heads to the mystic word, because they heard a faint echo of 
it within themselves, . will not remain indifferent to its mes- 
sage. If they already have their different faiths, from which 
they will not or cannot break away, they will persuade them- 
selves that they are effecting a transformation of them, as 
indeed they are: the same elements will subsist, but they will 
be magnetized and by this very magnetizing process be 
diverted into another direction. A religious historian will have 
no difficulty in discovering in the material form of a vaguely 
mystic belief, which has spread far and wide among mankind, 
so many mythical and even magic elements. He will prove 
thereby that there exists a static religion, natural to man, and 
that human nature is unchanging. But, if he stops at that, he 
will have overlooked something, and perhaps the essential. 
At any rate he will, unwittingly perhaps, have bridged the 
gulf between the static and the dynamic, and justified the use 
of the same word in such widely different instances. He will 
indeed be still dealing with a religion, but with a new one. 

We shall be still more convinced of this, we shall see from 
another angle how these two religions are antagonistic and , 
yet come together, if we take into consideration the attempts 
of the second to lodge within the first, preparatory to sup- 
planting it. As a matter of fact, it is we who convert them into 
attempts by an act of retrospection. They were, when they 
occurred, complete and self-sufficient actions, and they have 
only assumed the guise of initial preparatory efforts since' the 
day when ultimate success transformed them into partial 
failures, by virtue of the mysterious power which the present 
exerts over the past. They will none the less serve us to mark 
the intervening stages, to analyse into its virtual elements the 
indivisible act by which dynamic religion is posited, and at the 
same time to show, by the manifest unity of direction of all 
those efforts, which now prove to have been unsuccessful, 
that the sudden leap which marked final achievement was in 
no way fortuitous. 

Among the tentative efforts leading to the mysticism which 


was to come, certain aspects of the pagan mysteries occupy a 
foremost position. We must not allow ourselves to be led 
astray by the term: there was nothing mystic about most of the 
mysteries. They were connected with the established religion, 
which considered it perfectly natural that they should exist 
along with it. They glorified the same gods, or gods origin- 
ating from the same myth-making function. They merely 
strengthened the religious spirit among the initiate by adding 
to it that satisfaction which men have always had in forming 
little societies within the larger one, and setting themselves 
up as privileged beings on the strength of an initiation kept 
jealously secret. The members of these closed societies felt as 
if they were nearer to the god upon whom they called, if only 
because the performance of mythological scenes played a 
greater part here than in the public ceremonies. In a certain 
sense the god was present; the initiate shared to some extent 
in his divinity. They could therefore hope for more and better 
things in another life than the national religion held out to 
them. But these were, most probably, nothing but ready- 
made ideas imported from foreign lands: we know how 
deeply the ancient Egyptians had always been preoccupied 
with the fate of man after death, and we must remember the 
evidence of Herodotus, according to which the Demeter of 
the Eleusian mysteries and the Dionysos of Orphism were 
transformations of Isis and Osiris; so that the celebration of 
the mysteries, or at least what we know of it, discloses no 
striking divergence from the public cult. At first sight, then, 
ther6 would seem to be no more mysticism about this religion 
than the other. But we must not confine ourselves to that 
aspect, which was probably the only one to interest most of the 
initiate. We must ask ourselves if some at least of these 
mysteries did not bear the stamp of this or that great person- 
ality whose spirit they claimed to recall to life. We must also 
note the importance most of the authors give to scenes of 
religious enthusiasm, where the soul was thought to become 
really possessed by the god it invoked. In fact the most con- 
spicuously alive of them, those which ended by attracting 
into their orbit the mysteries of Eleusis themselves, were those 


of Dionysos and his continuator, Orpheus. As a foreign god 
from Thrace, Dionysos was by his violence a sharp contrast 
to the serenity of the Gods upon Olympus. He was not 
originally the god of wine, but he easily became so, because 
the intoxication of the soul he produced was not unlike that 
of wine. We know how William James was treated for having 
described as mystical, or at least having regarded as such for 
purposes of study, the condition induced by inhaling pro- 
toxide of nitrogen. People took this to be a profanation. And 
they would have been right, if the philosopher had made of 
the "interior revelation" a psychical equivalent of the 
protoxide, which would then have been, as the meta- 
physicians say, the efficient and sufficient cause of the effect 
produced. But in his eyes the intoxication was presumably 
the occasion rather than the cause. The psychic disposition 
was there, potentially, along with the others, only awaiting 
a signal to express itself in action. It might have been evoked 
spiritually by an effort made on its own spiritual level. But 
it could just as well be brought about materially, by an in- 
hibition of what inhibited it, by the removing of an obstacle, 
and this effect was the wholly negative one produced by the 
drug; the psychologist preferred making use of the latter, 
which enabled him to obtain his result whenever he wished. 
It is possible that no more important role attached to wine, 
when its effect was compared to the Dionysiac frenzy. But 
that is not the main point. What we want to find out is 
whether this frenzy can be considered, in retrospect, and once 
mysticism has come on the scene, as heralding certain 
mystic states. In order to answer this question, we need but 
glance at the evolution of Greek philosophy. 

This evolution was purely rational. It carried human 
thought to its highest level of abstraction and generalization. 
It gave such strength and flexibility to the dialectic function 
of the mind that even to-day for such training we go to 
school with the Greeks. Yet two points must be noted. The 
first is that at the origin of this great movement there was an 
impulsion or a shock which was not of a philosophic nature. 
The second is that the doctrine in which the movement 


culminated, and which brought Greek thought to a climax, 
claimed to transcend pure reason. There is no doubt that the 
Dionysiac frenzy was continued into Orphism, and that 
Orphism went on into Pythagoreanism: well, it is to this latter, 
perhaps even to the former, that the primary inspiration of 
Platonism goes back. We know in what an atmosphere of 
mystery, in the Orphic sense of the word, the platonic myths 
were wrapped, and how the theory of ideas itself was inclined, 
by a covert sense of affinity, towards the Pythagorean theory 
of numbers. True, no influence of this kind is noticeable in 
Aristotle and his immediate successors; but the philosophy of 
Plotinus, in which the development culminates, and which 
owes as much to Aristotle as it does to Plato, is unquestion- 
ably mystic. If it has undergone the influence of Eastern 
thought, so very much alive in the Alexandrine world, 
this occurred without the knowledge of Plotinus him- 
self, who thought he was merely condensing all Greek 
philosophy, with the whole object of opposing it to foreign 
doctrines. Thus, to sum up, there was in the beginning a 
leaven of Orphism, and at the end a metamorphosis of 
dialectics into mysticism. From this the conclusion might be 
drawn that it was an extra-rational force which had caused 
this rational development and carried it to its culmination at 
a point beyond reason. In the same way the slow, steady 
phenomena of sedimentation, which alone are visible to us, are 
the outcome of invisible seismic forces which, by heaving up 
at certain times the earth's crust, start the sedimentary 
activity in a given direction. But another interpretation is 
possible; and we are inclined to think it more probable. We 
may suppose that the development of Greek thought was 
solely the work of reason, and that, alongside and independent 
of it, there occurred at rare intervals in certain predisposed 
souls an effort to strike out, beyond the limits of intelligence, 
in search of a vision, a contact, the revelation of a transcend- 
ant reality. This effort may never have attained its object, 
but each time, just as it was nearly spent, it handed on to 
dialectics what remained of itself, rather than disappear en- 
tirely; and thus, with the same expenditure of energy, a fresh 


attempt could not fail to reach a more distant goal, intelli- 
gence being caught up again at a more advanced point of 
philosophic development, the latter having in the interval 
acquired greater elasticity and revealing a greater degree of 
mysticism. We do, as a matter of fact, see a first wave, purely 
Dionysiac, merging into Orphism, which was of a higher 
intellectual character; a second wave, which we might call 
Orphic, led to Pythagoreanism, that is to say, to a distinct 
philosophy; in its turn Pythagoreanism transmitted some- 
thing of its spirit to Platonism, and the latter, having adopted 
it, in time expanded naturally into Alexandrine mysticism. 
But in whatever form we imagine the relation between the 
two currents, the one intellectual, the other extra-intellectual, 
it is only by placing ourselves at the terminal point that we 
can call the latter supra-intellectual or mystic, and regard as 
mystic an impulsion which originated in the mysteries. 

It remains to be seen, in this case, whether the final stage 
of the movement was complete mysticism. One may give 
words whatever connotation one likes, provided one begins 
by defining that meaning. In our eyes, the ultimate end of 
mysticism is the establishment of a contact, consequently of a 
partial coincidence, with the creative effort of which life is 
the manifestation. This effort is of God, if not God himself. 
The great mystic is to be conceived as an individual being, 
capable of transcending the limitations imposed on the species 
by its material nature, thus continuing and extending the 
divine action. Such is our definition. We are free to posit it, 
provided we ask ourselves whether it ever finds its applica- 
tion, and then whether it fits such and such a particular case. 
As regards Plotinus, there is no doubt about the answer. It 
was granted to him to look upon the promised land, but not 
to set foot upon its soil. He went as far as ecstasy, a state in 
which the soul feels itself, or thinks it feels itself, in the 
presence of God, being irradiated with His light; he did not 
get beyond this last stage, he did not reach the point where, 
as contemplation is engulfed in action, the human will be- 
comes one with the divine will. He thought he had reached 
the summit: in his eyes, to go further would have meant to 


go downhill. This is what he expressed in language of rare 
beauty, yet which is not the language of thoroughgoing 
mysticism. "Action", he said, "is a weakening of contempla- 
tion." 1 Therein he remains faithful to Greek intellectualism, 
he even sums it up in a striking formula; and at any rate he 
did contrive to impregnate it with mysticism. In short, 
mysticism, in the absolute sense in which we have agreed to 
take the word, was never attained by Greek thought. No 
doubt it would like to have come into being; as a mere 
virtuality, it knocked more than once at the door. The door 
opened wider and wider, but never wide enough for mysticism 
wholly to enter. 

There is a radical distinction, in this case, between the 
mystical and the dialectical; they only come together at long 
intervals. Elsewhere, on the contrary, they have been con- 
stantly intermingled, in appearance helping each other, per- 
haps in actual fact mutually preventing each other from 
attaining full maturity. This is what appears to have happened 
in Hindu thought. We shall not engage in any profound study 
of it nor sum it up in its essentials. Its development extends 
over a considerable period of time. Being both a philosophy 
and a religion, it has varied with time and place. It is expressed 
in a language some of whose many shades of meaning prob- 
ably escape even those who know it best. Moreover, the words 
of this language have by no means always retained the same 
sense, even supposing that sense to have been always a 
precise one, or to have ever been so. But, for our purpose, 
a glance at the doctrine as a whole will suffice. And since, to 
obtain this bird's-eye view, we must inevitably content our- 
selves with piling up and trying to blend together views which 
have been held by experts, by picking out these lines which 
coincide we shall stand a fair chance of not going far wrong. 

Let us first remark that India has always practised a 
religion similar to that of ancient Greece. Gods and spirits 
played the same parts as they did elsewhere. Rites and 
ceremonies were similar. Sacrifice was an extremely important 

\6yov rriv 7i7>aij> Troioiwrcu (Enn. III. viii. 4). 


element. These cults persisted through Brahmanism, Jainism, 
and Buddhism. How were they compatible with a teaching 
such as that of the Buddha? We must note that Buddhism, 
which came to deliver man, believed that the gods too 
needed to be delivered. It therefore treated men and gods as 
creatures of the same $pecies, subject to the same laws of fate. 
This is easily conceivable in a hypothesis such as ours: man 
lives naturally in societies, and, as the result of a natural 
function, which we have called myth-making, he surrounds 
himself with phantasmic beings of his own creation, who live a 
life akin to his own, on a higher plane, but bound up with 
his own; such is the religion we regard as natural. Did the 
thinkers of India ever see things in this light? It is hardly 
likely. But any mind that sets out on the mystic way, beyond 
the city gates, feels more or less distinctly that he is leaving 
men and gods behind him. And this very fact makes him see 
them intermingled. 

Now, just how far did Hindu thought progress in this direc- 
tion? We are considering, of course, ancient India only, alone 
with herself, untouched by the influences which have since 
been brought to bear on her by Western civilization, or by the 
impulse to resist them. For, be it static or dynamic, we take 
religion at its origins. We have found that the first was fore- 
shadowed in nature; we see now that the second is a leap 
beyond nature, and we study the leap in those cases where the 
impetus was insufficient or thwarted. The Hindu soul seems 
to have striven towards this impetus in two different ways. 

One of them is at the same time of a physiological 'and 
psychological character. Its remotest origin is to be found in 
a practice common to Hindus and Iranians, previous, there- 
fore, to their separation: the recourse to an intoxicating drink 
which they both call soma. It produced a divine rapture, 
somewhat like that which the devotees of Dionysos sought in 
wine. Later came a set of practices designed to inhibit all 
feeling, to dull mental activity, in a word to induce states 
similar to hypnosis; these became systematized into the yoga. 
Should this be called mysticism in our sense of the word? 
There is nothing mystical in hypnotic states as such, but they 


may become so, or at least herald true mysticism and pave 
the way for it, through the suggestions which creep into them. 
And they will become so very easily, their form will be pre- 
disposed to fill out with this matter, if they already entail 
visions, ecstasies, thus suspending the critical functions of 
intelligence. Such must have been, in one aspect at least, the 
significance of the practices which culminated in yoga. Here 
mysticism was no more than outlined; but a more marked 
mysticism, a purely spiritual concentration, could utilize the 
yoga in its material elements, and by that very operation 
spiritualize it. In fact, the yoga seems to have been, at different 
times, and in different places, a more popular form of mystic 
contemplation, or else a complete system which included this 

We must ascertain then what this contemplation was, as 
also what connexion there can have been between -it and 
mysticism as we understand it. From the most remote times, 
the Hindu speculated on being in general, on nature, on life. 
But his effort, sustained through many centuries, has not led, 
like the effort of the Greek philosophers, to a knowledge 
susceptible, as was Greek science, of unlimited development. 
The reason lies in the fact that to him knowledge was always 
rather a means than an end. The problem for him was to 
escape from life, which he felt to be unremitting cruelty. And 
suicide would not have provided this escape, for the soul has 
to pass into another body after death, and this would have 
meant a perpetual round of living and suffering. But from 
the very beginnings of Brahmanism, he drifted into the belief 
that deliverance could be won by renunciation. This renuncia- 
tion was absorption in the whole as well as in self. Buddhism, 
which gave a new turn to Brahmanism, did not modify it in 
essentials. It made it, above all, into something much more 
elaborate. Till then human experience had shown indeed that 
life meant suffering; the Buddha worked back to the cause of 
this suffering; he found it in desire of every kind, in the 
craving for life. Thus the road to deliverance could be more 
accurately traced. Brahmanism, Buddhism, even Jainism, 
therefore preached with increasing vehemence the extinction 


of the will to live, and this preaching strikes us at first as a 
call on intelligence, the three doctrines differing only in a 
greater or lesser degree of intellectuality. But on looking 
closer, we perceive that the conviction they aimed at implant- 
ing was far from being a purely intellectual state. Already in 
antique Brahmanism it was neither by reasoning nor by study 
that the ultimate conviction was obtained; it consisted in a 
vision, passed on by him who had seen. Buddhism, more 
philosophical in one aspect, is still more mystical in the other. 
The state towards which it guides the soul is beyond joy and 
pain, beyond consciousness. It is by a series of stages, and by 
a whole system of mystical discipline that it leads to Nirvana, 
to the abolition of desire during life, and of Karma after 
death. We must not forget that the origin of the Buddha's 
mission lies in the illumination that came to him in his early 
youth. Everything in Buddhism which can be put into words 
can doubtless be considered as a philosophy; but the essential 
is the final revelation, transcending both reason and speech. 
It is the conviction, gradually neared and suddenly attained, 
that the goal is reached: man's sufferings, the only certainty, 
and consequently the only living thing in life, are over. If we 
consider that we are here dealing, not with a theoretical view, 
but with an experience closely resembling ecstasy, that in an 
effort at oneness with the creative impetus a soul might in- 
deed take the path thus described and only fail because it 
stopped half-way, dangling all dizzy in the void between two 
activities, between the human life it has left behind and the 
divine life it has not reached, then we shall not hesitate to see 
mysticism in the Buddhist faith. But we shall understand why 
it is not complete mysticism. This would be action, creation, 

Not that Buddhism ignored charity. On the contrary it 
recommended it in the most exalted terms. And it joined 
example to precept. But it lacked warmth and glow. As a 
religious historian very justly puts it, it Knew nothing "of the 
complete and mysterious gift of self". Let us add and it 
comes perhaps to the same thing that it did not believe in 
the efficacy of human action. It had no faith in such action. 


And faith alone can grow to power and move mountains. A 
complete mysticism would have reached this point. It is per- 
haps to be met with in India, but much later. That enthusi- 
astic charity, that mysticism comparable to the mysticism of 
Christianity, we find in a Ramakrishna or a Vivekananda, to 
take only the most recent examples. But Christianity, and this 
is just the point, had come into the world in the interval. 
Its influence on India gone over, as it happens, to Islamism 
was superficial enough, but to the soul that is predisposed 
a mere hint, the slightest token, is enough. But let us suppose 
even that the direct action of Christianity, as a dogma, has 
been practically nil in India. Since it has impregnated the 
whole of Western civilization, one breathes it, like a perfume, 
in everything which this civilization brings in its ^jfee. In- 
dustrialism itself, as we shall try to prove, springs indirectly 
from it. And it was industrialism, it was our Western civiliza- 
tion which liberated the mysticism of a Ramakrishna or a 
Vivekananda. This burning, active mystieisincould never 
have been kindled in the days when the Hindurtelt he was 
crushed by nature and when no human intervention was of 
any avail. What could be done when inevitable famine doomed 
millions of wretches to die of starvation? The principal origin 
of Hindu pessimism lay in this helplessness. And it was 
pessimism which prevented India from carrying her mysticism 
to its full conclusion, since complete mysticism is action. But 
then, with the advent of machines which increased the yield 
of the land, and above all moved the products from place to 
place, with the advent also of political and social organizations 
which proved experimentally that the mass of the people was 
not doomed, as though by some inexorable necessity, to a 
life of grinding labour and bitter poverty, deliverance became 
possible in an entirely new sense; the mystical impulse, if 
operating anywhere with sufficient power, was no longer 
going to be brought up against the impossibility of inter- 
fering; it was no longer to be driven back into doctrines of 
renunciation or the systematic practice of ecstasy; instead of 
turning inwards and closing, the soul could open wide its 
gates to a universal love. Now these inventions and organiza- 


tion are essentially Western; it is they who, in this case, have 
enabled mysticism to develop to its fullest extent and reach 
its goal. We may therefore conclude that neither in Greece 
nor in ancient India was there complete mysticism, in the 
one case because the impetus was not strong enough, in the 
other case because it was thwarted by material conditions or 
by too narrow an intellectual frame. It is its appearance at a 
given moment that enables us to follow in retrospect its pre- 
paratory phases, just as the volcano, bursting into activity, 
explains a long series of earthquakes in the past. 1 

For complete mysticism is that of the great Christian 
mystics. Let us leave aside, for the moment, their Christianity, 
and study in them the form apart from the matter. There is 
no doubt that most of them passed through states resembling 
the various culminating phases of the mysticism of the 
ancients. 2 But they merely passed through them: bracing 
themselves up for an entirely new effort, they burst a dam; 
they were then swept back into a vast current of life; from 
their increased vitality there radiated an extraordinary energy, 
daring, power of conception and realization. Just think of 
what was accomplished in the field of action by a St. Paul, a 
St. Teresa, a St. Catherine of Sienna, a St. Francis, a Joan 
of Arc, and how many others besides! Nearly all this super- 
abundant activity was devoted to spreading the Christian 
faith. Yet there are exceptions, and the case of Joan of Arc 
will suffice to show that the form can be separated from the 

When we grasp that such is the culminating point of the 
inner evolution of the great mystics, we can but wonder how 

1 We are perfectly aware of the fact that there existed other mysticisms 
in antiquity besides Neo-PIatonism and Buddhism. But, for the object we 
have in view, we need only take those that advanced furthest. 

2 M. Henri Delacroix, in a book which deserves to become a classic 
(Etudes d'histoire et de psychologic du mysticisme, Paris, 1908), has called 
attention to the essentially active element in the great mystics. Similar 
ideas will be found in the remarkable works of Evelyn Underbill (Mysticism, 
London, 1911; and The Mystic Way, London 1913). The latter author 
connects certain of her views with those we expressed in UEvolution 
Creatrice, and which we have taken up again, to carry them further, in the 
present chapter. See, in particular, on this point, The Mystic Way. 


they could ever have been classed with the mentally diseased. 
True, we live in a condition of unstable equilibrium; normal 
health of mind, as, indeed, of body, is not easily defined. Yet 
there is an exceptional, deep-rooted mental healthiness, which 
is readily recognizable. It is expressed in a bent for action, 
the faculty of adapting and re-adapting oneself to circum- 
stances, in firmness combined with suppleness, in the 
prophetic discernment of what is possible and what is not, in 
a spirit of simplicity which triumphs over complications, in a 
word, supreme good sense. Is not this exactly what we find in 
the above-named mystics? And might they not provide us 
with the very definition of intellectual vigour? 

If they have been judged otherwise, it is because of the 
abnormal states which are, with them, the prelude to the 
ultimate transformation. They talk of their visions, their 
ecstasies, their raptures. These are phenomena which also 
occur in sick people and which are part of their malady. An 
important work has lately appeared on ecstasy regarded as a 
psycho-asthenic manifestation. 1 But there exist morbid states 
which are imitations of healthy states; the latter are none the 
less healthy, and the former morbid. A lunatic may think he 
is an emperor; he will systematically introduce a Napoleonic 
touch into his gestures, his words, his acts, and therein lies 
his madness: does it in any way reflect upon Napoleon? In 
just the same way it is possible to parody mysticism, and the 
result will be mystic insanity: does it follow that mysticism 
is insanity? Yet there is no denying that ecstasies, visions, 
raptures are abnormal states, and that it is difficult to dis- 
tinguish between the abnormal and the morbid. And such 
indeed has been the opinion of the great mystics themselves. 
They have been the first to warn their disciples against visions 
which were quite likely to be pure hallucinations. And they 
generally regarded their own visions, when they had any, as 
of secondary importance, as wayside incidents; they had had 
to go beyond them, leaving raptures and ecstasies far behind, 
to reach the goal, which was identification of the human will 
with the divine will. The truth is that these abnormal states, 
1 Pierre Janet, De Vangoisse d Vextase. 


resembling morbid states, and sometimes doubtless very 
much akin to them, are easily comprehensible, if we only stop 
to think what a shock to the soul is the passing from the static 
to the dynamic, frojn the closed to the open, from everyday 
life to mystic life. When the darkest depths of the soul are 
stirred, what rises to the surface and attains consciousness 
takes on there, if it be intense enough, the form of an image 
or an emotion. The image is often pure hallucination, just 
as the emotion may be meaningless agitation. But they both 
may express the fact that the disturbance is a systematic re- 
adjustment with a view to equilibrium on a higher level: the 
image then becomes symbolic of what is about to happen, 
and the emotion is a concentration of the soul awaiting trans- 
formation. The latter is the case of mysticism, but it may 
partake of the other; what is only abnormal may be accom- 
panied by what is distinctly morbid; we cannot upset the 
regular relation of the conscious to the unconscious without 
running a risk. So we must not be surprised if nervous 
disturbances and mysticism sometimes go together; we find 
the same disturbances in other forms of genius, notably in 
musicians. They have to be regarded as merely accidental. 
The former have no more to do with mystical inspiration than 
the latter with musical. 

1 Shaken to its depths by the current which is about to sweep 
it forward, the soul ceases to revolve round itself and escapes 
for a moment from the law which demands that the species 
and the individual should condition one another. It stops, 
as though to listen to a voice calling. Then it lets itself go, 
straight onward. It does not directly perceive the force that 
moves it, but it feels an indefinable presence, or divines it 
through a symbolic vision. Then comes a boundless joy, an 
^-absorbing ecstasy or an enthralling rapture: God is there, 
fand the soul is in God. Mystery is no more. Problems vanish, 
darkness is dispelled; everything is flooded with light. But 
for how long? An imperceptible anxiety, hovering above the 
ecstasy, descends and clings to it like its shadow. This anxiety 
alone would suffice, even without the phases which are to 
come, to distinguish true and complete mysticism from what 


was in bygone days its anticipated imitation or preparation. 
For it shows that the soul of the great mystic does not stop 
at ecstasy, as at the end of a journey. The ecstasy is indeed 
rest, if you like, but as though at a station, where the engine 
is still under steam, the onward movement becoming a vibra- 
tion on one spot, until it is time to race forward again. Let 
us put it more clearly: however close the union with God 
may be, it could only be final if it were total. Gone, doubtless, 
is the distance between the thought and the object of the 
thought, since the problems which measured and indeed con- 
stituted the gap have disappeared. Gone the radical separa- 
tion between him who loves and him who is beloved: God is 
there, and joy is boundless. Bjjtt thougkibe soul becomes, in 
thought and feeling, absorbed in God, something of it remains 
outside; that something, is the will, whence its action, if it| 
acted, would quite naturally proceed. Its life, then, is not 
yet divine. The soul is aware of this, hence its vague dis- 
quietude, hence the agitation in repose which is the striking 
feature of what we call complete mysticism: it means that the 
impetus had acquired the momentum to go further, that 
ecstasy affects indeed the faculty of seeing and feeling, but 
that there is, besides, the will, which itself has to find its way 
back to God. When this feeling has grown to the extent of 
displacing everything else, the ecstasy has died out, the 
soul stands alone again, and sometimes desolate enough. 
Accustomed for a time to a dazzling light, it is now left blindly 
groping in the gloom. It does not realize the profound meta- 
morphosis which is going on obscurely within it. It feels that 
it has lost much; it does not yet know that this was in order 
to gain all. Such is the "darkest night" of which the great 
mystics have spoken, and which is perhaps the most significant 
thing, in any case the most instructive, in Christian mysticism. 
The final phase, characteristic of great mysticism, is im- 
minent. To analyse this ultimate preparation is impossible, 
for the mystics themselves have barely had a glimpse of its 
mechanism. Let us confine ourselves to suggesting that a 
machine of wonderfully tempered steel, built for some extra- 
ordinary feat, might be in a somewhat similar state if it 


became conscious of itself as it was being put together. Its 
parts being one by one subjected to the severest tests, some 
of them rejected and replaced by others, it would have a feel- 
ing of something lacking here and there, and of pain all over. 
But this entirely superficial distress would only have to be 
intensified in order to pass into the hope and expectation of a 
marvellous instrument. The mystic soul yearns to become 
this instrument. It throws off anything in its substance that 
is not pure enough, not flexible and strong enough, to be 
turned to some use by God. Already it had sensed the presence 
of God, it had thought it beheld God in a symbolic vision, it 
had even been united to Him in its ecstasy; but none of this 
rapture was lasting, because it was mere contemplation; action 
threw the soul back upon itself and thus divorced it from 
God. Now it is God ....who is acting through the soul, in the 
soul; the union is total, therefore final. At this point words 
such as mechanism and instrument evoke images which are 
better left alone. They could be used to give us an idea of the 
preliminary work. They will teach us nothing of the final 
result. Let us say that henceforth for the soul there is a 
superabundance of life. There is a boundless impetus. There 
is an irresistible impulse which hurls it into vast enterprises. 
A calm exaltation of all its faculties makes it see things on a 
vast scale only, and, in spite of its own weakness, produce 
only what can be mightily wrought. Above all, it sees things 
simply, and this simplicity, which is equally striking in the 
words it uses and the conduct it follows, guides it through 
complications which it apparently does not even perceive. 
An innate knowledge, or rather an acquired ignorance, sug- 
gest to it straightaway the step to be taken, the decisive act, 
the unanswerable word. Yet effort remains indispensable, 
endurance and perseverance likewise. But they come of 
themselves, they develop of their own accord, in a soul acting 
and acted upon, whose liberty coincides with the divine 
activity. They represent a vast expenditure of energy, but this 
energy is supplied as it is required, for the superabundance 
of vitality which it demands flows from a spring which is the 
very source of life. And now the visions are left far behind: 


* >.;-. 

the divinity could not manifest itself from without to a soul 
henceforth replete with its essence. Nothing remains to dis- 
tinguish such a man outwardly from the men about him. He 
alone realizes the change which has raised him to the rank of 
adjutores Dei, " patients" in respect to God, agents in respect 
to man. In this elevation he feels no pride. On the contrary, 
great is his humility. How could he be aught but humble, 
when there has been made manifest to him, in mute colloquy, 
alone with Him who is Alone, through an emotion in which 
his whole soul seemed to melt away, what we may call the 
divine humility? 

Even in the mysticism which only went as far as ecstasy, 
that is to say contemplation, a certain line of action was 
foreshadowed. Hardly had these mystics come back from 
Heaven to earth, but they felt it incumbent on them to teach 
mankind. They had to tell all men that what the world per- 
ceived by the eyes of the body is doubtless real, but that there 
is something else, and that this something is no mere possi- 
bility or probability, like the conclusion of an argument, but 
the certainty of a thing experienced: here is one who has seen, 
who has touched, one who knows. And yet these were but 
the tentative beginnings of an apostolate. The enterprise was 
indeed discouraging: how could the conviction derived from 
an experience be handed down by speech? And, above all, 
how could the inexpressible be expressed? But these questions 
do not even present themselves to the great mystic. He has 
felt truth flowing into his soul from its fountain-head like an 
active force. He can no more help spreading it abroad than 
the sun can help diffusing its light. Only, it is not by mere 
words that he will spread it. 

For the love which consumes him is no longer simply the 
love of man for God, it is the love of God for all men.Through 
God, in the strength of God, he loves all mankind with a 
divine love. This is not the fraternity enjoined on us by the 
philosophers in the name of reason, on the principle that all 
men share by birth in one rational essence: so noble an ideal 
cannot but command our respect; we may strive to the best 
of our ability to put it into practice, if it be not too irksome for 


the individual and the community; we shall never attach 
ourselves to it passionately. Or, if we do, it will be because 
we have breathed in some nook or corner of our civilization 
the intoxicating fragrance left there by mysticism. Would the 
philosophers themselves have laid down so confidently the 
principle, so little in keeping with everyday experience, of 
an equal participation of all men in a higher essence, if there 
had not been mystics to embrace all humanity in one simple 
indivisible love? This is not, then, that fraternity which 
started as an idea, whence an ideal has been erected. Neither 
is it the intensification of an innate sympathy of man for man. 
Indeed we may ask ourselves whether such an instinct ever 
existed elsewhere than in the imagination of philosophers, 
where it was devised for reasons of symmetry. With family, 
country, humanity appearing as wider and wider circles, they 
thought that man must naturally love humanity as he loves 
his country and his family, whereas in reality the family 
group and the social group are the only ones ordained by 
nature, the only ones corresponding to instincts, and the 
social instinct would be far more likely to prompt societies 
to struggle against one another than to unite to make up 
humanity. The utmost we can say is that family and social 
feeling may chance to overflow and to operate beyond its 
natural frontiers, with a kind of luxury value; it will never go 
very far. The mystic love of humanity is a very different 
thing. It is not the extension of an instinct, it does not origin- 
ate in an idea. It belongs neither to the sensitive nor to the 
rational. It is implicitly both and effectively much more. 
For such a love lies at the very root of feeling and reason, as 
of all other things. Coinciding with God's love for His handi- 
work, a love which has been the source of everything, it 
would yield up, to anyone who knew how to question it, the 
secret of creation. It is still more metaphysical than moral in 
its essence. What it wants to do, with God's help, is to com- 
plete the creation of the human species and make of humanity 
what it would have straightaway become, had it been able to 
assume its final shape without the assistance of man himself. 
Or to use words which mean, as we shall see, the same thing 


in different terms: its direction is exactly that of the vital 
impetus; it is this impetus itself, communicated in its entirety 
to exceptional men, who in their turn would fain impart it 
to all humanity, and by a living contradiction change into 
creative effort that created thing which is a species, and turn 
into movement what was, by definition, a stop. 

Can it succeed? If mysticism is to transform humanity, 
it can only do so by passing on, from one man to another, 
slowly, a part of itself. The mystics are well aware of this. 
The great obstacle in their way is the same which prevented 
the creation of a divine humanity. Manjias to earn his bread 
with the sweat of his brow; in other words, humanity is an 
animal species, and, as such, subject to the law which governs 
the animal world and condemns the living to batten upon the 
living. Since he has to contend for his food both with nature 
and with his own kind, he necessarily expends his energies 
procuring it; his intelligence is designed for the very object 
of supplying him with weapons and tools, with a view to that 
struggle and that toil. How then, in these conditions, could 
humanity turn heavenwards its attention, which is essentially 
concentrated on earth? If possible at all, it can only be 
by using simultaneously or successively two very different 
methods. The first would consist presumably in intensifying 
the intellectual work to such an extent, in carrying intelli- 
gence so far beyond what nature intended, that the simple 
tool would give place to a vast system of machinery such as 
might set human activity at liberty, this liberation being, 
moreover, stabilized by a political and social organization 
which would ensure the application of the mechanics to their 
true object. A dangerous method, for mechanization, as it 
developed, might turn against mysticism: nay more, it is 
by an apparent reaction against the latter that mechanics 
would reach their highest pitch of development. But there 
are certain risks which must be taken: an activity of a superior 
kind, which to be operative requires one of a lower order, 
must call forth this activity, or at least permit it to function, 
if necessary, even at the cost of having to defend itself against 
it; experience shows that if, in the case of two contrary but 


complementary tendencies, we find one to have grown until it 
tries to monopolize all the room, the other will profit by this, 
provided it has been able to survive; its turn will come again, 
and it will then benefit by everything which has been done 
without its aid, which has even been energetically developed 
in specific opposition to it. However that may be, this means 
could only be utilized much later; in the meantime an entirely 
different method had to be followed. This consisted, not in 
contemplating a general and immediate spreading of the 
mystic impetus, which was obviously impossible, but in im- 
parting it, already weakened though it was, to a tiny handful 
of privileged souls which together would form a spiritual 
society; societies of this kind might multiply; each one, 
through such of its members as might be exceptionally gifted, 
would give birth to one or several others; thus the impetus 
would be preserved and continued, until such time as a pro- 
found change in the material conditions imposed on humanity 
by nature should permit, in spiritual matters, of a radical trans- 
formation. Such is the method followed by the great mystics. 
It was of necessity, and because they could do no more, that 
they were particularly prone to spend their superabundant 
energy in founding convents or religious orders. For the time 
being they had no need to look further. The impetus of love 
which drove them to lift humanity up to God and complete 
the divine creation could only reach its end, in their eyes, with 
the help of God whose instruments they were. Therefore all 
their efforts must be concentrated on a very great, a very 
difficult, but a limited task. Other efforts would be forth- 
coming, indeed others had already been; they would all be 
convergent, since God imparted to them their unity. 

We have, indeed, simplified a great deal. To make things 
clearer, and, above all, to take the difficulties one by one, we 
have reasoned as though the Christian mystic, the bearer of 
an inner revelation, had made his appearance in a humanity 
utterly ignorant of such a thing. As a matter of fact, the men 
to whom he speaks already have their religion, the same, 
moreover, as his own. If he has visions, these visions show 
him, in the form of images, what his religion had impressed 


on him in the form of ideas. His ecstasies, when they occurred, 
united him to a God probably greater than anything he had 
ever conceived, but who did nevertheless correspond to the 
abstract descriptions with which religion had supplied him. 
The question may even be asked if these abstract teachings 
are not at the root of mysticism, and if the latter has ever 
done more than go over the letter of the dogma, in order to 
retrace it in characters of flame. The business of the mystics 
would in this case be nothing but bringing to religion, in 
order to restore its vital heat, something of the ardour with 
which they were fired. Now, the man who professes such an 
opinion will certainly have no difficulty in getting it accepted. 
For the teaching of religion, like all teaching, is meant for 
the intelligence, and anything of a purely intellectual order 
can be brought within the reach of all men. Whether or no 
we subscribe to religion, it is always possible to assimilate 
it intellectually, if only by conceiving its mysteries to be 
mysterious. On the contrary, mysticism means nothing, 
absolutely nothing, to the man who has no experience of 
it, however slight. Therefore everyone will appreciate that 
mysticism may assert itself, original and ineffable, now and 
then, in a pre-existing religion which is formulated in terms 
of intelligence, whereas it is difficult to obtain acceptance 
for the idea of a religion which only exists through mysticism, 
and which is a mere extract of it an extract capable of being 
formulated by the intellect and therefore grasped by all. It is 
not for us to decide which of these interpretations conforms 
to religious orthodoxy. Let us only say that from the psycho- 
logist's point of view the second is much more likely than the 
first. A doctrine JkdiiehJs but, a doctrine, lias a poor chance 
indeed of giving birth to the glowing enthusiasm, the illumina- 
tion, the faith that moves mountains. But grant this fierce 
glow, and the molten matter will easily run into the mould 
of a doctrine, or even become that doctrine as it solidifies. 
We represent religion, then, as the crystallization, brought 
about by a scientific process of cooling, of what mysticism 
had poured, while hot, into the soul of man. Through religion 
all men get a little of what a few privileged souls possessed 


in full. True, it had to accept a great deal in order to get itself 
accepted. Humanity really understands the new only when 
it inherits much of the old. Now the old was, on the one 
hand, what had been built up by the Greek philosophers, and, 
on the other hand, what had been imagined by ancient reli- 
gions. That Christianity received or derived a great deal from 
both there is no doubt. It is permeated with Greek philosophy, 
and has preserved many rites, many ceremonies, many beliefs 
even, from the religion we called static or natural. It was in 
its interest to do so, for its partial adoption of the Aristotelian 
neo-Platonism enabled it to win over philosophic thought, 
and its borrowings from ancient religions were bound to help 
this new religion with its marked tendency in the oppo- 
site direction, having hardly anything in common with past 
religions but the name to become popular. But none of all 
that was essential; the essence of the new religion was to be 
the diffusion of mysticism. There is such a thing as high-level 
popularization, which respects the broad outlines of scientific 
truth, and enables ordinary cultivated minds to get a general 
grasp of it, until the time comes when a greater effort reveals 
it to them in detail, and, above all, allows them to penetrate 
deeply into its significance. The propagation of the mystical 
through religion seems to us something of the kind. In this 
sense, religion is to mysticism what popularization is to 

What the mystic finds waiting for him, then, is a humanity 
which has been prepared to listen to his message by other 
mystics, invisible and present in the religion which is actually 
taught. Indeed his mysticism itself is imbued with this 
religion, for such was its starting-point. His theology will 
generally conform to that of the theologians. His intelligence 
and his imagination will use, to express in words what he 
experiences, and in material images what he sees spiritually, 
the teachings of the theologians. And this he can do easily, 
since theology has tapped that very current whose source 
is the mystical. Thus his mysticism is served by religion, 
against the day when religion becomes enriched by his mysti- 
cism. This explains the primary mission which he feels to be 


entrusted to him, that of an intensifier of religious faith. He 
takes the most crying needs first. In reality, the task of the 
great mystic is to effect a radical transformation of humanity 
by setting an example. The object could only be attained if 
there existed in the end what should theoretically have existed 
in the beginning, a divine humanity. 

So then mysticism and religion are mutually cause and 
effect, and continue to interact on one another indefinitely. 
Yet there must have been a beginning. And indeed at the 
origin of Christianity there is Christ. From our standpoint, 
which shows us the divinity of all men, it matters little whether 
or no Christ be called a man. It does not even matter that 
he be called Christ. Those who have gone so far as to deny 
the existence of Jesus cannot prevent the Sermon on the 
Mount from being in the Gospels, with other divine sayings. 
Bestow what name you like on their author, there is no deny- 
ing that there was one. The raising of such problems does 
not concern us here. Let us merely say that, if the great 
mystics are indeed such as we have described them, they are 
the imitators, and original but incomplete continuators, of 
what the Christ of the Gospels was in all His glory. 

He Himself may be considered as the continuator of the 
prophets of Israel. There is no doubt but that Christianity 
was a profound transformation of Judaism. It has been said 
over and over again: a religion which was still essentially 
national was replaced by a religion that could be made 
universal. A God who was doubtless a contrast to all other 
gods by His justice as well as by His power, but whose power 
was used for His people, and whose justice was applied, above 
all, to His own subjects, was succeeded by a God of love, a 
God who loved all mankind. This is precisely why we hesitate 
to classify the Jewish prophets among the mystics of antiquity: 
Jehovah was too stern a judge, Israel and its God were not 
close enough together for Judaism to be the mysticism which 
we are defining. And yet no current of thought or feeling has 
contributed so much as the thought and feeling of Jewish 
prophets to arouse the mysticism which we call complete, 
that of the Christian mystics. The reason is that, if other 


currents carried certain souls towards a contemplative mysti- 
cism and thereby deserved to be regarded as mystic, pure con- 
templation they remained, and nothing more. To cover the 
interval between thought and action an impetus was needed 
and it was not forthcoming. We find this impetus in the 
prophets: they longed passionately for justice; demanded it 
in the name of the God of Israel; and Christianity, which 
succeeded Judaism, owed largely to the Jewish prophets the 
activity and efficiency of its mysticism, capable of marching 
on to the conquest of the world. 

If mysticism is really what we have just said it is, it must 
furnish us with the means of approaching, as it were experi- 
mentally, the problem of the existence and the nature of God. 
Indeed we fail to see how philosophy could approach the 
problem in any other way. Generally speaking, we look upon 
an object as existing if it is perceived, or might be perceived. 
Such an object is therefore presented in actual or virtual 
experience. No doubt you may construct the idea of an object 
or of a being, as the geometrician does for a geometrical figure; 
but experience alone will decide whether it actually exists 
outside the idea thus constructed. Now, you may assert that 
this is just the question, and that the problem precisely is to 
know whether a certain Being is not distinctive from all other 
beings in that He stands beyond the reach of our experience, 
and yet is as real as they are. Granted, for this once; although 
an assertion of this kind, with its attendant arguments, 
appears to me to imply a fundamental illusion. But then you 
rnust prove that the Being thus defined, thus demonstrated, 
is indeed God. You may argue that He is so by definition, 
and that one is at liberty to confer any meaning one likes to 
words, provided one defines them first. Granted again; but if 
you attribute to a word a radically different meaning from 
that which it usually bears, it will apply to a new object; 
your reasoning no longer refers to the former one; it is there- 
fore understood that you are speaking to us of something else. 
This is precisely what occurs in most cases when the philo- 
sopher speaks of God. So remote is this conception from the 


God most men have in mind that if, by some miracle, and 
contrary to the opinion of philosophers, God as thus defined 
should step down into the field of experience, none would 
recognize Him. For religion, be it static or dynamic, regards 
Him, above all, as a Being who can hold communication with 
us: now this is just what the God of Aristotle, adopted with a 
few modifications by most of his successors, is incapable of 
doing. Without going deeply here into an examination of the 
Aristotelian notion of the divinity, we shall simply say that 
it strikes us as raising a double question: (i) Why did Aristotle 
posit as first principle a motionless Mover, a Thought think- 
ing itself, self-enclosed, operative only by the appeal of its 
perfection? (2) Why, having posited this principle, did he call 
it God? But in the one case as in the other the answer is easy: 
the Platonic theory of Ideas ruled over the thought of Greece 
and Rome ere ever it penetrated into modern philosophy; 
and the relation of the first principle of Aristotle to the world 
is the very same as that which Plato establishes between the 
Idea and the thing. For anyone who sees in ideas nothing but 
the product of social and individual intelligence, it is in no 
way surprising that a limited number of immutable ideas 
should correspond to the infinitely varied and changing 
incidents of our experience; for we contrive to find resem- 
blances between things in spite of their diversity, and to take 
a stable view of them in spite of their instability; in this way 
we obtain ideas which we can control, whereas the actual 
things may elude our grasp. All this is the work of man. But 
he who starts philosophizing when society is already well 
advanced with its work, and finds the results stored up in 
language, may be struck with admiration for this system of 
ideas itself, which seems to set the standard for all things. 
Are they not, in their immutability, models which things, 
changing and shifting as they are, merely imitate? May they 
not be true reality, and do not change and motion express 
the unceasing and unsuccessful attempts of well-nigh non- 
existent things, running, as it were, after themselves, to co- 
incide with the immutability of the Ideas? It is therefore 
understandable that, having placed above the world of the 


senses a hierarchy of Ideas with at its apex the Idea of Ideas, 
which was the Idea of Good, Plato should have judged that 
the Ideas in general, and still more so the Good, acted through 
the attractive power of their perfection. Now this is exactly 
the sort of action that Aristotle ascribes to the Thought of 
Thought, which seems indeed akin to the Idea of Ideas. 
True, Plato did not identify this idea with God. The Demi- 
urge of the TimaeuSy who organizes the world, is distinct 
from the Idea of Good. But the Timaeus is a mythical dialogue; 
the Demiurge has therefore only a semi-existence; and Aris- 
totle, who abandons myths, surmises as coincident with the 
Divinity a Thought which, so it would seem, is barely a 
thinking Being, and which we should call rather Idea than 
Thought. Thus the God of Aristotle has nothing in common 
with the gods worshipped by the Greeks; nor has he much 
more in common with the God of the Bible, of the Gospels. 
Religion, whether static or dynamic, confronts the philosopher 
with a God who raises totally different problems. Yet it is 
to the former god that metaphysical thought has generally 
attached itself, even at the price of investing him with attri- 
butes incompatible with his essence. Why not have gone back^ 
to his origin? It would have seen him develop from the con- 
centration of all ideas into one. Why not have gone on to 
consider each of these ideas? It would have realized that they 
were intended to pave the way for the action of society and 
the individual on things, that society supplied them for this 
purpose to the individual, and that to set up their quintessence 
as a divinity is merely to deify the social. Why not, lastly, 
have analysed the social conditions of this individual action, 
and the nature of the work done by the individual with the 
help of society? It would have seen that if, in order to simplify 
the work and also to facilitate the co-operation, things are 
first reduced to a few categories, or ideas, translatable into 
words, each of these ideas stands for a stationary property or 
state culled from some stage or other in the process of becom- 
ing; the real is mobile, or rather movement itself, and we 
perceive only continuities of change; but to have any action 
on the real, and especially to perform the constructive task 


which is the natural object of human intelligence, we must 
contrive to have halts here and there, just as we wait for a 
momentary slowing down or standing still before firing at a 
moving target. But these halts, each of which is really the 
simultaneousness of two or more movements and not, as it 
seems to be, a suppression of movement, these qualities 
which are but snapshots of change, become in our eyes the 
real and essential, precisely because they are what concerns 
our action on things. Rest then becomes for us something 
anterior and superior to movement, motion being regarded 
only as agitation with a view to a standing still. Thus im- 
mutability is rated higher than mutability, which implies a 
deficiency, a lack, a quest of the unchanging form. Nay more, it 
is by this gap between the point where a thing is and the 
point where it should be, where it aspires to be, that move- 
ment and change will be defined and even measured. On 
this showing, duration becomes a debasement of being, 
time a deprivation of eternity. This whole system of meta- 
physics is involved in the Aristotelian conception of Deity. 
It consists in deifying both the social work which paves the 
way for language and the individual constructive work requir- 
ing patterns and models: the eZ&o? (Idea or Form) is what 
corresponds to this twofold work; the Idea of Ideas or Thought 
of Thoughts is therefore Divinity itself. With the origin and 
meaning of Aristotle's God thus traced back we can but 
wonder how modern thinkers, when treating of the existence 
and the nature of God, hamper themselves with insoluble 
problems which only arise if God is studied from the Aris- 
totelian point of view, and if they are pleased to call by that 
name a being whom mankind has never dreamed of invoking. 
Now, is mystical experience able to solve these problems? 
It is easy to see the objections that such a notion will arouse. 
We have disposed of those which consist in asserting that no 
mystic is sound in the head and that all mysticism is a 
pathological state. The great mystics, the only ones that we 
are dealing with, have generally been men or women of 
action, endowed with superior common sense: it matters 
little that some of them had imitators who well deserved to 


be called "crazy", or that there are cases when they them- 
selves felt the effect of extreme and prolonged strain of mind 
and will; many a man of genius has been in the same condi- 
tion. But there is another series of objections, which it is 
impossible to overlook. For it is alleged that the experiences 
of the great mystics are individual and exceptional, that they 
cannot be verified by the ordinary man, that they cannot 
therefore be compared to a scientific experiment and cannot 
possibly solve problems. There is a great deal to be said on 
this point. In the first place, it is by no means certain that 
a scientific experiment, or more generally an observation 
recorded by science, can always be repeated or verified. In 
the days when Central Africa was a terra incognita , geography 
trusted to the account of one single explorer, if his honesty 
and competence seemed to be above suspicion. The route of 
Livingstone's journeys appeared for a long time on the maps 
and atlases. You may object that verification was potentially, 
if not actually, feasible, that other travellers could go and see 
if they liked, and that the map based on the indications of one 
traveller was a provisional one, waiting for subsequent explora- 
tion to make it definitive. I grant this: but the mystic too has 
gone on a journey that others can potentially, if not actually, 
undertake; and those who are actually capable of doing so are 
at least as many as those who possess the daring and energy 
of a Stanley setting out to find Livingstone. Indeed, that is 
an understatement. Along with the souls capable of following 
the mystic way to the end there are many who go at least 
part of the way: how numerous are those who take a few 
steps, either by an effort of will or from a natural disposition! 
William James used to say he had never experienced mystic 
states; but he added that if he heard them spoken of by a man 
who had experienced them "something within him echoed 
the call". Most of us are probably in the same case. It is no 
use invoking as evidence to the contrary the indignant pro- 
tests of those who see nothing in mysticism but quackery and 
folly. Some people are doubtless utterly impervious to mystic 
experience, incapable of feeling or imagining anything of it. 
But we also meet with people to whom music is nothing 


but noise; and some of them will express their opinions of 
musicians with the same anger, the same tone of personal 
spite. No one would think of accepting this as an argument 
against music. Let us leave, then, these merely negative 
arguments and see whether the most superficial examination 
of mystic experience will not incline us favourably towards it. 
We must first note the fact that mystics generally agree 
among themselves. This is striking in the case of the Christian 
mystics. To reach the jjltimate identification with Gpd, they 
go through a serie&^of. states. These may vary from mystic to 
mystic, but there is a strong resemblance between them. In 
any case, the path followed is the same, even admitting that 
the stopping-places by the way are at different intervals. 
They have in any case the same terminal point. In the de- 
scriptions of the final state we find the same expressions, the 
same images, the same comparisons, although the authors 
were generally unknown to each other. It will be replied that 
in some cases they had known one another, that furthermore 
there is a mystic tradition, and that all mystics may have felt 
its influence. We grant this, but the fact must be noted that 
the great mystics give little thought to this tradition; each 
one has his own originality, which is not intentional, which 
he has not sought, but which we feel is of fundamental 
importance to him; it means that he is the object of an ex- 
ceptional favour, unmerited though it be. Now it may be 
objected that a community of religion suffices to explain the 
resemblance, that all Christian mystics have lived on the 
Gospels, that they all received the same theological teaching. 
But this would be to forget that, if the resemblance between 
the visions is indeed explainable by a common religion, these 
visions occupy but a small place in the lives of the great 
mystics; they are soon left behind, and treated as if they 
had been merely symbolical. As to theological teaching in 
general, it is true that they seem to accept it with utter 
docility, and in particular to obey their confessors; but, as 
has been shrewdly remarked, "they obey themselves alone, 
and a sure instinct leads them straight to the very man who 
can be relied upon to guide them in the way they want to go. 


If he should happen to depart from it, our mystics would not 
hesitate to shake off his authority, and, on the strength of their 
direct contact with the Deity, place their own liberty above 
all else". 1 It would indeed be interesting at this point to study 
closely the relations between the spiritual adviser and the 
soul seeking counsel. It would be found that, of the two, he 
that has meekly acquiesced in yielding to guidance has more 
than once, no less meekly, become the guide. But this is not 
for us the important point. All we want to make clear is that, 
if external resemblances between Christian mystics may be 
due to a common tradition or a common training, their deep- 
seated agreement is a sign of an identity of intuition which 
would find its simplest explanation in the actual existence of 
the Being with whom they believe themselves to hold inter- 
course. So much the more so, then, if we consider that the 
other mysticisms, ancient or modern, go more or less far, 
stopping at this or that stage, but all point in the same 

Yet we may admit that mystical experience, left to itself, 
cannot provide the philosopher with complete certainty. It 
could only be absolutely convincing if he had come by 
another way, such as a sensuous experience coupled with 
rational inference, to the conclusion of the probable existence 
of a privileged experience through which man could get 
into touch with a transcendent principle. The occurrence in 
mystics of just such an experience would then make it possible 
to add something to the results already established, whilst 
these established results would reflect back on to the mystical 
experience something of their own objectivity. Experience 
i^the only source of knowledge. But, since the intellectual 
record of the Fact inevitably goes further than the raw fact, 
all experiences are far from being equally conclusive and 
from justifying the same certainty. Many lead us to merely 
probable conclusions. Yet probabilities may accumulate, and 
the sum-total be practically equivalent to certainty. We 
have alluded elsewhere to those "lines of fact" each one but 

1 M. de Montmorand, Psychologic des mystiques catholiques orthodoxes 
(Paris, 1920), p. 17. 


indicating the direction of truth, because it does not go 
far enough: truth itself, however, will be reached if two of 
them can be prolonged to the point where they intersect. A 
surveyor measures the distance to an unattainable point by 
taking a line on it, now from one, now from the other of two 
points which he can reach. In our opinion this method of 
intersection is the only one that can bring about a decisive 
advance in metaphysics. By this means collaboration between 
philosophers can be established; metaphysics, like science, 
will progress by the gradual accumulation of results obtained, 
instead of being a complete take-it-or-leave-it system, always 
in dispute and always doomed to start afresh. Now it so 
happens that a thorough study of a certain order of problems, 
entirely different from religious problems, has led us to a 
conclusion which makes probable the existence of a singular 
privileged experience, such as a mystic experience. And, on 
the other hand, the mystical experience, studied for its own 
sake, supplies us with pointers that can be added and fitted to 
the knowledge obtained in an entirely different field, by an 
entirely different method. It is a case, then, of one supporting 
and completing the other. Let us begin by the first point. 

It was by following as closely as possible the evidence of 
biology that we reached the conception of a vital impetus and 
of a creative evolution. As we set it out at the beginning of the 
last chapter, this conception was by no means a hypothesis, 
such as can be found at the basis of any metaphysical system: 
it was a condensation of fact, a summing up of summings up. 
Now, whence came the impetus, and what was the principle 
behind it? If it sufficed unto itself, what was it in itself, and 
what meaning were we to ascribe to its manifestations as a 
whole? To such questions the facts under consideration sup- 
plied no direct answer; but we saw clearly from what direction 
the answer might come. For the energy precipitated through 
matter appeared to us, as it were, below or above conscious- 
ness, in any case of the same order as consciousness. It had 
had to get round many obstacles, squeeze itself through 
others; above all, divide itself between diverging lines of 
evolution: at the extremity of the two main lines we ulti- 


mately found two modes of knowledge into which it had 
resolved itself in order to materialize: the instinct of insects, 
the intelligence of manl Instinct was intuitive; intelligence 
reflected and reasoned. It is true that intuition had had to 
debase itself to become instinct; it had become intent, as 
though hypnotized, on the interest of the species, and what 
had survived of its consciousness had assumed a somnam- 
bulistic form. But just as there subsisted around animal 
instinct a fringe of intelligence, so human intelligence pre- 
served a halo of intuition. The latter, in man, had remained 
fully disinterested and conscious, but it was only a faint glow 
and did not radiate very far. Yet it is from this that the light 
must come, if ever the inner working of the vital impetus 
were to be made clear in its significance and in its object. For 
this intuition was turned inward; and if, in a first intensi- 
fication, it made us realize the continuity of our inner life, if 
most of us went no further, a deeper intensification might 
carry it to the roots of our being, and thus to the very principle 
of life in general. Now is not this precisely the privilege of the 
mystic soul?| 

This brings us to what we have just stated as our second 
point. The first question was to find out whether or no the 
mystics were merely "queer", if the accounts of their experi- 
ences were purely fanciful or not. But the question was soon 
settled, at least as far as the great mystics were concerned. 
The next thing was to find out whether mysticism was no 
more than a more fervent faith, an imaginative form such as 
traditional religion is capable of assuming in passionate souls, 
or whether, while assimilating as much as it can from this 
religion, while turning tolf'Iof"confirmation, while borrowing 
itS~JUngiugelt-did,nQt possess an original content, drawn 


es to tradition, to theology, to the Churches. 
In the -first case, it must necessarily stand aloof from philo- 
sophy, for the latter ignores revelation which has a definite 
date, the institutions which have transmitted it, the faith that 
accepts it: it must confine itself to experience and inference. 
But, in the second case, it would suffice to take mysticism 


unalloyed, apart from the visions, the allegories, the theo- 
logical language which express it, to make it a powerful help- 
meet to philosophical research. Of these two conceptions of 
the relation that it maintains to religion, the second seems to 
us indubitably the right one. We must then find out in what 
measure mystic experience is a continuation of the experience 
which led us to the doctrine of the vital impetus. All the 
information with which it would furnish philosophy, philo- 
sophy would repay in the shape of confirmation. 

Let us first note that the mystics ignore what we have 
called "false problems". It may perhaps be objected that 
they ignore all problems, whether real or false, and this is true 
enough. It is none the less certain that they supply us with an 
implicit answer to questions which force themselves upon the 
attention of philosophers, and that difficulties which should 
never Have perplexed philosophy are implicitly regarded by 
the mystic as non-existent. We have shown elsewhere that 
part of metaphysics moves, consciously or unconsciously, 
around the question why anything exists why matter, or 
spirit, or God, rather than nothing at all? But the question 
presupposes that reality fills a void, that underneath Being 
lies nothingness, that dejure there should be nothing, that we 
musT""ffiierefore explain why there is de facto something. And 
this presupposition is pure illusion, for the idea of absolute 
nothingness has not one jot more meaning than a square 
circle. The absence of one thing being always the presence 
of another which we prefer to leave aside because it is not 
the thing that interests us or the thing we were expecting 
suppression is never anything more than substitution, a 
two-sided operation which we agree to look at from one side 
only: so that the idea of the abolition of everything is self- 
destructive, inconceivable; it is a pseudo-idea, a mirage con- 
jured up by our imagination. But, for reasons we have 
stated elsewhere, the illusion is natural: its source lies in the 
depths of the understanding. It raises questions which are 
the main origin of metaphysical anguish. Now, for a mystic 
these questions simply do not exist, they are optical illusions 
arising, in the inner world, from the structure of human 


intelligence, they recede and disappear as the mystic rises 
superior to the human point of view. And, for similar reasons, 
the mystic will no more worry about the difficulties accumu- 
lated by philosophy around the "metaphysical" attributes of 
Deity: he has nothing to do with properties which are mere 
negations and can only be expressed negatively; he believes 
that he sees what God is, for him there is no seeing what God 
is not. It is therefore on the nature of God, immediately 
apprehended on the positive side, I mean on the side which 
is perceptible to the eyes of the soul, that the philosopher 
must question him. 

The philosopher could soon define this nature, did he 
wish to find a formula for mysticism. _G T od is love ? aruLthe 
gbjfcct-o lave: herein lies the whole contribution of mysti- 
cism. About this twofold love the mystic will never have done 
enthusing. His description is interminable, because what he 
wants to describe is ineffable. But what he does state clearly 
is that divine love is not a thing of God: it is God Himself. It 
is upon this point that the philosopher must fasten who holds 
God to be a person, and yet wishes to avoid anything like a 
gross assimilation with man. He will think, for example, of 
the enthusiasms which can fire a soul, consume all that is 
within it, and henceforth fill the whole space. The individual 
then becomes one with the emotion; and yet he was never so 
thoroughly himself; he is simplified, unified, intensified. Nor 
has he ever been so charged with thought, if it be true, as we 
have said, that there are two kinds of emotion, the one below 
intellect, which is mere restlessness following upon a repre- 
sentation, the other above intellect, preceding the idea, more 
than idea, but which would burst into ideas if, pure soul that 
it is, it chose to give itself a body. What is there more sys- 
tematically architectonic, more reflectively elaborate, than a 
Beethoven symphony? But all through the labour of arranging, 
rearranging, selecting, carried out on the intellectual plane, 
the composer was turning back to a point situated outside 
that plane, in search of acceptance or refusal, of a lead, an 
inspiration; at that point there lurked an indivisible emotion 
which intelligence doubtless helped to unfold into music, 


but which was in itself something more than music and 
more than intelligence. Just the opposite of infra-intellectual 
emotion, it remained dependent on the will. To refer back to 
this emotion the artist had to make a constantly repeated 
effort, such as the eye makes to rediscover a star which, as soon 
as it is found, vanishes into the dark sky. An emotion of this 
kind doubtless resembles, though very remotely, the sublime 
love which is for the mystic the very essence of God. In any 
case, the philosopher must bear this in mind when he com- 
presses mystic intuition more and more in order to express it 
in terms of intelligence. 

He may not write music, but he generally writes books; and 
the analysis of his own state of mind when he writes will help 
him to understand how the love in which the mystics see the 
very essence of divinity can be both a person and a creative 
power. He generally keeps, when writing, within the sphere of 
concepts and words. Society supplies ideas ready to hand, 
worked out by his predecessors and stored up in the language, 
ideas which he combines in a new way, after himself re- 
shaping them to a certain extent so as to make them fit into 
his combination. This method will always produce some more 
or less satisfactory result, but still a result, and in a limited 
space of time. And the work produced may be original and 
vigorous; in many cases human thought will be enriched by 
it. Yet this will be but an increase of that year's income; 
social intelligence will continue to live on the same capital, 
the same stock. Now there is another method of composition, 
more ambitious, less certain, which cannot tell when it will 
succeed or even if it will succeed at all. It consists in working 
back from the intellectual and social plane to a point in the 
soul from which there springs an imperative demand for 
creation. The soul within which this demand dwells may 
indeed have felt it fully only once in its lifetime, but it is 
always there, a unique emotion, an impulse, an impetus 
received from the very depths of things. To obey it com- 
pletely new words would have to be coined, new ideas would 
have to be created, but this would no longer be communi- 
cating something, it would not be writing. Yet the writer 



will attempt to realize the unrealizable. He will revert to the 
simple emotion, to the form which yearns to create its matter, 
and will go with it to meet ideas already made, words that 
already exist, briefly social segments of reality. All along the 
way he will feel it manifesting itself in signs born of itself, I 
mean in fragments of its own materialization. How can these 
elements, each unique of its kind, be made to coincide with 
words already expressing things? He will be driven to strain 
the words, to do violence to speech. And, even so, success can 
never be sure; the writer wonders at every step if it will be 
granted to him to go on to the end; he thanks his luck for 
every partial success, just as a punster might thank the words 
he comes across for lending themselves to his fun. But if he 
does succeed, he will have enriched humanity with a thought 
that can take on a fresh aspect for each generation, with a 
capital yielding ever-renewed dividends, and not just with a 
sum down to be spent at once. These are the two methods of 
literary composition. They may not, indeed, utterly exclude 
each other, yet they are radically different. The second one, 
as providing the image of the creation of matter by form, is 
what the philosopher must have in mind in order to conceive 
as creative energy the love wherein the mystic sees the very 
essence of God. 

Has this love an object? Let us bear in mind that an emotion 
of a superior order is self-sufficient. Imagine a piece of music 
which expresses love. It is not love for any particular person. 
Another piece of music will express another love. Here we 
have two distinct emotional atmospheres, two different frag- 
rances, and in both cases the quality of love will depend upon 
its essence and not upon its object. Nevertheless, it is hard 
to conceive a love which is, so to speak, at work, and yet 
applies to nothing. As a matter of fact, the mystics unani- 
mously bear witness that God needs us, just as we need God. 
Why should He need us unless it be to love us? And it is 
to this very conclusion that the philosopher who holds to the 
mystical experience must come. Creation will appear to him 
as God undertaking to create creators, that he may have, 
besides himself, beings worthy of his love. 


We should hesitate to admit this if it were merely a ques- 
tion of humdrum dwellers on this corner of the universe called 
Earth. But, as we have said before, it is probable that life 
animates all the planets revolving round all the stars. It 
doubtless takes, by reason of the diversity of conditions in 
which it exists, the most varied forms, some very remote 
from what we imagine them to be; but its essence is every- 
where the same, a slow accumulation of potential energy to 
be spent suddenly in free action. We might still hesitate to 
admit this, if we regarded as accidental the appearance amid 
the plants and animals that people the earth of a living 
creature such as man, capable of loving and making himself 
loved. But we have shown that this appearance, while not 
predetermined, was not accidental either. Though there were 
other lines of evolution running beside the line which led to 
man, and in spite of all that is incomplete in man himself, 
we can say, while keeping in close touch with experience, 
that it is man who accounts for the presence of life on our 
planet. Finally, we might well go on hesitating if we believed 
that the universe is essentially raw matter, and that life has 
been super-added to matter. We have shown, on the contrary, 
that matter and life, as we define them, are coexistent and 
interdependent. This being the case, there is nothing to pre- 
vent the philosopher from following to its logical conclusion 
the idea which mysticism suggests to him of a universe 
which is the mere visible and tangible aspect of love, and of 
the need of love, together with all the consequences entailed 
by this creative emotion: I mean the appearance of living 
creatures in which this emotion finds its complement; of an 
infinity of other beings without which they could not have 
appeared, and lastly of the unfathomable depths of material 
substance without which life would not have been possible. 
No doubt we are here going beyond the conclusions we 
reached in Creative Evolution. We wanted then to keep as 
close as possible to facts. We stated nothing that could not 
in time be confirmed by the tests of biology. Pending that 
confirmation, we had obtained results which the philosophic 
method, as we understand it, justified us in holding to be true. 


Here we are in the field of probabilities alone. But we cannot 
reiterate too often that philosophic certainty admits of degrees, 
that it calls for intuition as well as for reason, and that if 
intuition, backed up by science, is to be extended, such exten- 
sion can only be mystical intuition. In fact, the conclusions 
we have just set out complete naturally, though not neces- 
sarily, those of our former work. Granted the existence of a 
creative energy which is love, and which desires to produce 
from itself beings worthy to be loved, it might indeed sow 
space with worlds whose materiality, as the opposite of divine 
spirituality , would simply express the distinction between being 
created and creating, between the multifarious notes, strung 
like pearls, of a symphony and the indivisible emotion from 
which they sprang. In each of these worlds vital impetus and 
raw matter might thus be complementary aspects of creation, 
life, owing to the matter it traverses, its subdivision into dis- 
tinct beings, and the potentialities it bears within it, inter- 
penetrating as much as the spatiality of the matter which 
displays them permits. This interpenetration has not been 
possible on our planet; everything conduces to the idea that 
whatever matter could be secured here for the embodiment 
of life was ill-adapted to favour its impetus. The original 
impulsion therefore split into divergent lines of evolutionary 
progress, instead of remaining undivided to the end. Even 
along the line on which the essential of the impulsion travelled 
it ended by exhausting its effect, or rather the movement 
which started as straight ended as circular. In that circle 
humanity, the terminal point, revolves. Such was our ton- 
elusion. In order to carry it further otherwise than by mere 
guess-work, we should simply have to follow the lead of the 
mystic. That current of life which traverses matter, and which 
accounts for its existence, we simply took for granted. As for 
humanity, which stands at the extremity of the main line, we 
did not ask whether it had any other purpose but itself. Now, 
this twofold question is contained in the very answer given 
to it by mystical intuition. Beings have been called into 
existence who were destined to love and be loved, since 
creative energy is to be defined as love. Distinct from God, 


Who is this energy itself, they could only spring into being 
in a universe, and therefore the universe sprang into being. 
In that portion of the universe which is our planet probably 
in our whole planetary system such beings, in order to 
appear, have had to be wrought into a species, and this species 
involved a multitude of other species, which led up to it, or 
sustained it, or else formed a residue. It may be that in other 
systems there are only individuals radically differentiated 
assuming them to be multifarious and mortal and may be 
these creatures too were shaped at a single stroke, so as to be 
complete from the first. On Earth, in any case, the species 
which accounts for the existence of all the others is only 
partially itself. It would never for an instant have thought of 
becoming completely itself, if certain representatives of it had 
not succeeded, by an individual effort added to the general 
work of life, in breaking through the resistance put up by the 
instrument, in triumphing over materiality in a word in 
getting back to God. These men are the mystics. They have 
blazed a trail along which other men may pass. They have, 
by this very act, shown to the philosopher the whence and 
whither of life. 

People are never tired of saying that man is but a minute 
speck on the face of the earth, the earth a speck in the 
universe. Yet, even physically, man is far from merely occupy- 
ing the tiny space allotted to him, and with which Pascal 
himself was content when he condemned the "thinking reed" 
to be, materially, a reed and nothing more. For if our body is 
matter for our consciousness, it is co-extensive with our con- 
sciousness, it comprises everything we perceive, it reaches as 
far as the stars. But this vast body is changing continually, 
sometimes radically, at the slightest, shifting of one part of 
itself which is at its centre and occupies a small fraction of 
space. This inner and central body, relatively invariable, is 
ever present. It is not merely present, it is operative: it is 
through this body, and through it alone, that we can move 
other parts of the large body. And, since action is what 
matters, since it is an understood thing that we are present 
where we act, the habit has grown of limiting consciousness 


to the small body and ignoring the vast one. The habit 
appears, moreover, to be justified by science, which holds out- 
ward perception to be the "epiphenomenon" of corresponding 
intra-cerebral processes: so that all we perceive of the larger 
body is regarded as being a mere phantom externalized by 
the smaller one. We have previously exposed the illusion 
contained in this metaphysical theory. 1 If the surface of our 
organized small body (organized precisely with a view to im- 
mediate action) is the seat of all our actual movements, our 
huge inorganic body is the seat of our potential or theoretic- 
ally possible actions: the perceptive centres of the brain being 
the pioneers that prepare the way for subsequent actions and 
plan them from within, everything happens as though our 
external perceptions were built up by our brain and launched 
by it into space. But the truth is quite different, and we^are 
really present in everything we perceive, although through 
ever varying parts of ourselves which are the abode of no more 
than potential actions. Let us take matters from this angle and 
we shall cease to say, even of our body, that it is lost in the 
immensity of the universe. 

It is true that, when people speak of the littleness of man 
and the immensity of the universe, they are thinking of the 
complexity of the latter quite as much as of its size. A person 
appears as something simple; the material world is of a com- 
plexity that defies imagination: even the tiniest visible par- 
ticle of matter is a world in itself. How then can we believe 
that the latter exists only for the sake of the former? Yet we 
can and must. For, when we find ourselves confronted with 
parts which we can go on counting without ever coming to 
an end, it may be that the whole is simple, and that we 
are looking at it from the wrong point of view. Move your 
hand from one point to another: to you who perceive it from 
the inside this is an indivisible movement. But I who per- 
ceive it from the outside, with my attention centred on the 
line followed, / say to myself that your hand has had to cover 
the first part of the interval, then the half of the second half, 
then the half of what was left, and so on: I could go on for 
1 Mati&re et M&moire (Paris 1896). See the whole of chap. i. 


millions of centuries, and never finish the enumeration of the 
acts into which, in my eyes, the movement you feel to be 
indivisible is split up. Thus the gesture which calls into being 
the human species, or, to use more general terms, the objects 
of love for the Creator, might quite well require conditions 
which require other conditions, and so on, endlessly, the 
implication of implications continuing to infinity. We cannot 
think of this multiplicity without bewilderment; yet it is but 
the reverse side of something indivisible. It is true that the 
infinite numbers into which we decompose a gesture of the 
hand are purely virtual, necessarily determined in their 
virtualness by the reality of the gesture, whereas the com- 
ponent parts of the universe, and the parts of these parts, are 
realities: when they are living beings, they possess a spon- 
taneity which may even attain to free activity. Hence we are 
not affirming that the relation between the complex and the 
simple is the same in both cases. We only wanted to show by 
the comparison that complexity, even when unlimited, is no 
proof of importance, and that an existence that is simple may 
postulate a chain of conditions which never ends. 

We come then to this conclusion. Attributing the place we 
do to man, and the significance we do to life, it may well 
appear optimistic. The vision at once rises before us of all the 
suffering with which life is fraught, from the lowest stage of 
consciousness up to man. It would be no use for us to contend 
that among animals this suffering is by no means as great as 
people think; without going so far as the Cartesian theory 
of animal-machine, we may presume that pain is much 
diminished for beings possessing no active memory, who do 
not protract their past into their present, and who are not 
complete personalities; their consciousness is of a somnambu- 
listic nature; neither their pleasure nor their pain produce 
the same deep and enduring reverberations as ours: do we 
count as real the pain we feel in a dream? Even in man, is not 
physical distress often due to imprudence or carelessness, or 
to over-refined tastes, or artificial needs? As^for moral dis- 
t^ess, it is as often_a$ not .pur own fault, and in any^caseTT 

would not t>e so acute if we had not exasperated bur sensibility 

*._.-. * * 


^ pain is indefinitely 

protracted and multiplied by brooding over it. In a word, it 
would be easy to add a few paragraphs to the Theodicee of 
Leibniz. But we have not the slightest inclination to do so. 
The philosopher may indulge in speculations of this kind in 
the solitude of his study; but what is he going to think about 
it in the presence of a mother who has just watched the 
passing of her child? No, suffering is a terrible reality, and it 
is mere unwarrantable optimism to define evil a priori, even 
reduced to what it actually is, as a lesser good. But there is 
an empirical optimism, which consists simply in noting two 
facts: first that humanity finds life, on the whole, good, since 
it clings to it; and then, that there is an unmixed joy, lying 
beyond pleasure and pain, which is the final state of the 
mystic soul. In this twofold sense, and from both points of 
view, optimism must be admitted, without any necessity for 
the philosopher to plead the cause of God. It will be said, of 
course, that if life is good on the whole, yet it would have 
been better without suffering, and that suffering cannot have 
been willed by a God of love. But there is nothing to prove 
that suffering was willed. We have pointed out that what, 
looked at from one side, appears as an infinite multiplicity of 
things, of which suffering is indeed one, may look from 
another side like an indivisible act, so that the elimination of 
one part would mean doing away with the whole. Now it will 
be suggested that the whole might have been different, and 
such that pain had no place in it; therefore that life, even if 
it is good, could have been better. And the conclusion will be 
drawn that, if a principle really exists, and if that principle is 
love, it is not omnipotent and it is therefore not God. But 
that is just the question. What exactly does "omnipotence" 
mean? We have shown that the idea of "nothing" is tanta- 
mount to the idea of a square circle, that it vanished under 
analysis, only leaving an empty word behind it, in fine that 
it is a pseudo-idea. May not the same apply to the idea of 
"everything", if this name is given not only to the sum-total 
of the real, but also to the totality of the possible? I can, at a 
stretch, represent something in my mind when I hear of the 

in SURVIVAL 225 

sum total of existing things, but in the sum-total of the non- 
existent I can see nothing but a string of words. So that here 
again the objection is based on a pseudo-idea, a verbal entity. 
But we can go further still: the objection arises from a whole 
series of arguments implying a radical defect of method. A 
certain representation is built up a priori, and it is taken for 
granted that this is the idea of God; from thence are deduced 
the characteristics that the world ought to show; and if the 
world does not actually show them, we are told that God does 
not exist. Now, who can fail to see that, if philosophy is the 
work of experience and reasoning, it must follow just the 
reverse method, question experience as to what it has to 
teach us of a Being Who transcends tangible reality as He 
transcends human consciousness, and so appreciate the nature 
of God by reasoning on the facts supplied by experience? 
The nature of God will thus appear in the very reasons we 
have for believing in His existence: we shall no longer try 
to deduce His existence or non-existence from an arbitrary 
conception of his nature. Let agreement be reached on this 
point, and there will be no objection to talking about divine 
omnipotence. We find such expressions used by these very 
mystics to whom we turn for experience of the divine. They 
obviously mean by this an energy to which no limit can be 
assigned, and a power of creating and loving which surpasses 
all imagination. They certainly do not evoke a closed con- 
cept, still less a definition of God such as might enable us to 
conclude what the world is like or what it should be like. 

The same method applies to all problems of the after-life. 
It is possible, with Plato, to lay down a priori a definition of 
the soul as a thing incapable of decomposition because it is 
simple, incorruptible because it is indivisible, immortal by 
virtue of its essence. This leads, by a process of deduction, 
to the idea of souls falling into Time, and thence to that of a 
return into Eternity. But what is to be the answer to those 
who deny the existence of the soul thus defined? And how 
could the problems touching a real soul, its real origin, its 
real fate, be resolved in accordance with reality, or even 
posited in terms of reality, when the whole thing has been 


mere speculation upon a possibly baseless conception of 
the soul, or, at best, upon a conventional definition of the 
meaning of the word which society has inscribed on a slice 
of reality set apart for the convenience of conversation? The 
affirmation remains as sterile as the definition was arbitrary. 
The Platonic conception has not helped our knowledge of the 
soul by a single step, for all that it has been meditated upon 
for two thousand years. It was as complete and final as that 
of the triangle, and for the same reasons. How can we help 
seeing, however, that, if there really is a problem of the soul, 
in terms of experience it must be posited, and in terms of 
experience it must be progressively, and always partially, 
solved? We shall not revert to this subject, which we have 
dealt with elsewhere. Let us merely recall that the observa- 
tion, by our senses and our consciousness, of normal facts 
and morbid states reveals to us the inadequacy of the physio- 
logical explanation of the memory, the impossibility of 
attributing the preservation of recollections to the brain, and, 
on the other hand, the possibility of following up, step by 
step, the successive expansions of memory, from the point 
where it contracts to allow the passage only of what is strictly 
necessary to the present action, up to the farthest plane 
where it spreads out a panorama of the whole indestructible 
past. We said metaphorically that we were proceeding thus 
from the summit to the base of the cone. It is only at its top- 
most point that the cone fits into matter; as soon as we leave 
the apex, we enter into a new realm. What is it? Let us call it 
the spirit, or again, if you will, let us refer to the soul, but in 
that case bear in mind that we are remoulding language and 
getting the word to encompass a series of experiences instead 
of an arbitrary definition. This experimental searching will 
suggest the possibility and even probability of the survival 
of the soul, since even here below we shall have observed 
something of its independence of the body, indeed we shall 
have almost felt it. This will be only one aspect of that 
independence; we still remain imperfectly informed of the 
conditions of the after-life, and especially regarding its dura- 
tion: is it for a time, or for all eternity? But we shall at least 

in SURVIVAL 227 

have found something upon which experience can get a grip, 
and one indisputable affirmation will be made possible, as 
well as a future advance of our knowledge. So much for what 
we might call the experience on the lower plane. Let us now 
betake ourselves to the higher plane: we shall find an experience 
of another type, mystic intuition. And this is presumably a 
participation in the divine essence. Now, do these two experi- 
ences meet? Can the after-life, which is apparently assured 
to our soul by the simple fact that, even here below, a great 
part of this activity is independent of the body, be identical 
with that of the life into which, even here below, certain 
privileged souls insert themselves? Only a persistent and 
more profound investigation of these two experiences will tell 
us; the problem must remain open. Still it is something to 
have obtained, on essential points, a probability which is 
capable of being transformed into a certainty, and for the 
rest, for the knowledge of the soul and of its destiny, the 
possibility of endless progress. It is true that at first this way 
out of the difficulty will satisfy neither of the two schools 
which do battle over the a priori definition of the soul, 
categorically asserting or denying. Those who deny, because 
they refuse to set up as a reality what is perhaps a baseless 
construction of the mind, will stick to their negation in the 
very teeth of the experience put before them, believing 
that they are still dealing with the same thing. Those who 
affirm will have nothing but contempt for ideas which are 
admittedly provisional and calling for improvement; they will 
see in them nothing more than their own thesis, impaired and 
impoverished. It will take them some time to understand that 
their thesis had been extracted just as it stands from current 
language. Society doubtless follows certain suggestions of 
inner experience when it talks of the soul; but it has made up 
this word, like all the others, for its own convenience. It has 
applied it to something distinct from the body. The more 
radical the distinction, the better the word answers its pur- 
pose: now it cannot be more radical than when the qualities 
of the soul are taken to be purely and simply the negations of 
those of matter. Such is the idea that the philosopher has 


received only too often, ready made, from society through 
language. It appears to represent the acme of spirituality, just 
because it goes to the very end of something. But this some- 
thing is only negation. There is nothing to be extracted from 
nothingness, and knowledge of such a soul is, of course, in- 
capable of extension, nay, it rings hollow at the first blow of 
an opposing philosophy. How much better to turn back to 
the vague suggestions of consciousness from which we started, 
to delve into them and follow them up till we reach a clear 
intuition! Such is the method we recommend. Once again, it 
will not please either side. To apply it is to risk getting caught 
between the bark and the tree. But no matter! The bark will 
split, if the wood of the old tree swells with a new flow of sap. 



ONE of the results of our analysis has been to draw a sharp 
distinction, in the sphere of society, between the closed and 
the open. The closed society is that whose members hold 
together, caring nothing for the rest of humanity, on the 
alert for attack or defence, bound, in fact, to a perpetual 
readiness for battle. Such is human society fresh from the 
hands of nature. Man was made for this society, as the ant 
was made for the ant-heap. We must not overdo the analogy; 
we should note, however, that the hymenopterous com- 
munities are at the end of one of the two principal lines of 
animal evolution, just as human societies are at the end of the 
other, and that they are in this sense counterparts of one 
another. True, the first are stereotyped, whereas the others 
vary; the former obey instinct, the latter intelligence. But if 
nature, and for the very reason that she has made us intelligent, 
has left us to some extent with freedom of choice in our type 
of social organization, ^he has at all events ordained that we 
should live in society./A force of unvarying direction, which 
is to the soul what force of gravity is to the body, ensures the 
cohesion of the group by bending all individual wills to the 
same end.\That force is moral obligation. We have shown that 
it may extend its scope in societies that are becoming open, 
but that it was made for the closed society. And we have 
shown also how a closed society can only live, resist this or 
that dissolving action of intelligence, preserve and communi- 
cate to each of its members that confidence which is in- 
dispensable, through a religion born of the myth-making 
function. \This religion, which we have called static, and this 



obligation, which is tantamount to a pressure, are the very 
substance of closed society!'* 

Never shall we pass from the closed society to the open 
society, from the city to humanity, by any mere broadening 
out. The two things are not of the same essence.! The open 
society is the society which is deemed in principle to embrace 
all humanity. A dream dreamt, now and again, by chosen 
souls, it embodies on every occasion something of itself in 
creations, each of which, through a more or less far-reaching 
transformation of man, conquers difficulties hitherto un- 
conquerable. But after each occasion the circle that has 
momentarily opened closes again. Part of the new has flowed 
into the mould of the old; individual aspiration has become 
social pressure; and obligation covers the whole. Do these 
advances always take place in the same direction? We can take 
it for granted that the direction is the same, the moment we 
agree that they are advances. For each one is thus defined as a 
step forward. But this can be no more than a metaphor, and 
if there were really a pre-existent direction along which man 
had simply to advance, moral renovation would be foresee- 
able; there would be no need, on each occasion, for a creative 
effort. The truth is that it is always possible to take the latest 
phase of renovation, to define it and to say that the others 
contained a greater or lesser quantity of what the definition 
defines, that therefore they all led up to that renovation. But 
things only assume this form in retrospect; the changes were 
qualitative and not quantitative; they defied all anticipation. 
In one respect, however, they had, in themselves, and not 
merely through the medium of a conceptual interpretation, 
something in common. All aimed at opening what was closed; 
and tJie-gK>up, which after the last opening had closed on 
itself, was brought back every time to humanity. Let us go 
further: these successive efforts were not, strictly speaking, 
the progressive realization of an ideal, since no idea, forged 
beforehand, could possibly represent a series of accretions, 
each of which, creating itself, created its own idea; and yet 
the diversity of these efforts could be summed up into one 
and the same thing: an impetus, which had ended in closed 


societies because it could carry matter no further along, 
but which later on is destined to be sought out and captured, 
in default of the species, by some privileged individual. This 
impetus is thus carried forward through the medium of 
certain men, each of whom thereby constitutes a species 
composed of a suigle individual. If the individual is fully 
conscious of this, \ if the fringe of intuition surrounding his 
intelligence is capabfe~of expanding sufficiently to envelop its 
object, that is the mystic life.XFhe dynamic religion which thus 
Springs into being is the Very opposite of the static religion 
born of the myth-making function, in the same way as the 
open society is the opposite of the closed society. But just as 
the new moral aspiration only takes shape by borrowing from 
the closed society its natural form, which is obligation, so 
dynamic religion is only propagated through images and 
symbols supplied by the myth-making function. There is no 
need to go back over these different points. I wanted simply 
to emphasize the distinction I have made between the open 
and the closed society. 

We only have to concentrate on this distinction, and we 
shall see some of the big problems vanish, others assume a 
new shape. Whether we champion or impeach a religion, do 
we always take into account what is specifically religious in 
religion? We cherish or we dismiss a story which may have 
been found necessary for inducing and propagating a certain 
feeling, but religion is essentially that very feeling. We discuss 
the definitions it lays down and the theories it sets forth; 
and it has, indeed, made use of a metaphysic to give itseli 
bodily substance; but it might, at a stretch, have assumed a 
different corporeal form, or even none at all. The mistake is 
to believe that it is possible to pass, by a mere process of 
enlargement or improvement, from the static to the dynamic, 
from demonstration or fabulation, even though it bear the 
stamp of truth, to intuition. The thing itself is thus mistaken 
for its expression or its symbol. This is tbj&-Hua^errorj)f^a 
cVi^r intdl^ctualism. We find it, just the same, when we pass 
from religion to morality. There is a static morality, which 
exists, as a fact, at a given moment in society; it has become 


ingrained in the customs, the ideas, the institutions; its 
obligatory character is to be traced to nature's demand for 
a life in common. There is, on the other hand, a dynamic 
morality which is impetus, and which is related to life in 
general, creative of nature which created the social demand. 
The first obligation, in so far as it is a pressure, is infra- 
rational. The second, in so far as it is aspiration, is supra- 
rational. But intelligence intervenes. It seeks out the motive, 
that is to say the intellectual content, of each of these pre- 
scriptions; and, since intelligence is systematic, it imagines 
that the problem consists in reducing all moral motives to 
one. Now, if so, it can choose any one of them that it pleases. 
General interest, personal interest, self-love, sympathy, pity, 
logical consistency, etc., there is no principle of action from 
which it is not possible to deduce more or less the morality 
that is generally accepted. It is true that the easiness of the 
operation, and the purely approximate character of the result, 
should put us on our guard. If almost identical rules of con- 
duct are indifferently deducible from such divers principles, 
this is probably because no one of the principles was reduced 
to its specific characteristics. The philosopher went in search 
of his quarry in the social environment, where everything 
interpenetrates everything, where egoism and vanity are 
impregnated with sociability; it is in no way surprising, then, 
that he should find again in each principle the morality that 
he has put or left there. But morality itself he leaves un- 
explained, since he would have first had to delve into social 
life, in so far as it is a discipline demanded by nature, and 
then again to delve into nature herself itaken as the creation 
of life in general. He would thus have reached the very root 
of morality, which eludes the search of a purely intellectualist 
philosophy; the latter can only proffer advice, adduce reasons, 
which we are perfectly free to combat with other reasons. 
As a matter of fact, such philosophy always implies that the 
motive it has taken up as a principle is " preferable" to the 
others, that there is a difference of value between motives, 
and that there exists a general ideal by reference to which 
the real is to be estimated. It thus provides itself with a refuge 


in the Platonic theory, with the Idea of Good dominating all 
others: the reasons for action can then apparently claim to be 
ranged in order of merit beneath the Idea of Good, the best 
being those that come nearest to it, and the attraction of 
Good being the principle of obligation. But then the great 
difficulty is to say by what token we are to recognize that 
this or that line of conduct is nearer or further from the ideal 
Good; if this were known, it would be the essential, and 
the Idea of Good would become unnecessary. It would be 
equally hard to explain how the ideal in question creates an 
imperative obligation, especially the strictest obligation of all, 
the obligation which attaches to custom in primitive and 
essentially closed societies. The truth is that an ideal cannot 
become obligatory unless it is already active, in which case 
it is not the idea contained in it, but its action, which makes j 
it obligatory. Or rather it is only the name we give to the 
supposedly ultimate effect of that action, felt to be continu- 
ous, the hypothetical terminal point of the movement which 
is already sweeping us forward.J At the root of all theories, 
then, we find the two illusions we have time and again 
denounced. The first, a very general one, consists in the 
conception of movement as a gradual diminution of the 
space between the position of the moving object, which is 
immobility, and its terminal point considered as reached, 
which is immobility also, whereas positions are but mental 
snapshots of the indivisible movement: hence the impossi- 
bility of re-establishing the true mobility, that is to say, in 
this case, the aspirations and pressures directly or indirectly 
constituting obligation. The second illusion concerns more 
specially the evolution of life. Because an evolutionary pro- 
cess has been observed starting from a certain point, it is 
believed that this point must have been reached by the same 
evolutionary process, whereas the evolution may have been 
quite different, whereas even there may have been previously 
no evolution at all. Because we note a gradual enrichment 
of morality, we are apt to think that there is no such thing 
as a primitive irreducible morality, contemporary with the 
appearance of man. ^Yet we must posit this original morality 
1 Q 


at the same time as the human species, and assume that there 
was at the beginning a closed society. 

Now, is the distinction between the closed and the open, 
which is necessary to resolve or remove theoretical problems, 
able to help us practically ?\It would be of little utility, if the 
closed society had always 'been so constituted as to shut 
itself up again after each momentary opening. In that case, 
however untiringly we might delve back into the past, we 
should never reach the primitive; the natural would be a 
mere consolidation of the acquired. But, as we have just said, 
the truth is quite different. There is such a thing as funda- 
mental nature, and there are acquisitions which, as they 
become superaflded to nature, imitate it without becoming 
merged into iti Working back step by step we should get 
back to an original closed society, the general plan of which 
fitted the pattern of our species as the ant-heap fits the ant, 
but with this difference that in the second case it is the actual 
detail of the social organization which is given in advance, 
whereas in the other there exists only the main outline, a 
few directions, just enough natural prefiguration to provide 
immediately for the individual a suitable social environment. 
A knowledge of this plan would doubtless be to-day of mere 
historical interest, if the several characteristics had been 
ousted by others. But nature is indestructible. The French 
poet was wrong when he said: "Expel nature, she comes back 
at the double". There is no expelling her, she is there all the 
time. We have dwelt on the question of the transmissibility 
of acquired characteristics. It is highly improbable that a 
habit is ever transmitted; if this does occur, it is owing to 
a combination of many favourable conditions so accidental 
that it will certainly not recur often enough to implant the 
habit in the species. It is in customs, institutions, even in 
language, that moral acquisitions are deposited; they are then 
transmitted by unceasing education; it is in this way that 
habits which pass on from generation to generation end by 
being considered as hereditary. But everything conspires to 
encourage the wrong explanation: misdirected pride, super- 
ficial optimism, a mistaken idea of the real nature of progress, 


lastly and above all, a very widespread confusion between the 
inborn tendency, which is indeed transmissible from parent 
to child, and the acquired habit that has frequently become 
grafted on to the natural tendency. There is no doubt but 
that this belief has influenced positive science itself, which 
accepted it from common sense, in spite of the small number 
and the questionable character of the facts called upon to 
support it, and then handed it back to common sense after 
having reinforced it with its own undisputed authority. 
There is nothing more instructive on this point than the 
biological and psychological work of Herbert Spencer. It is 
based almost entirely on the idea of the hereditary trans- 
mission of acquired characteristics. And, in the days of its 
popularity, it impregnated the evolution doctrines of scien- 
tists. Now, this idea was, in Spencer, nothing more than the 
generalization of a thesis, presented in his first works, on 
social progress: his interest had at first been exclusively 
centred on the study of societies; it was only later that he 
came to deal with the phenomena of life. So that a sociology 
which thinks it is borrowing from biology the idea of heredi- 
tary transmission of the acquired is only taking back what it 
lent. This unproven philosophical theory has assumed a 
borrowed air of scientific assurance on its way through 
science, but it remains mere philosophy, and is further than 
ever from being proved. So let us keep to ascertained facts 
and to the probabilities suggested by them: in our opinion, 
if you eliminated from the man of to-day what has been 
deposited in him by unceasing education, he would be found 
to be identical, or nearly so, with his remotest ancestors. 1 
What conclusion are we to deduce from this? Since the 

1 We say "nearly" because we must take into account the variations 
which the living creature plays, as it were, on the theme supplied by his 
progenitors. But these variations, being accidental, and taking place in 
any direction, cannot be added together, in the lapse of time, to modify 
the species. On the thesis of the transmissibility of acquired character- 
istics, and on the evolutionism which certain biologists would found upon 
it, see Creative Evolution (chap. i.). 

Let us add that, as we have already remarked, the sudden leap forward 
which ended in the human species may have been attempted at more than 


dispositions of the species subsist, immutable, deep within 
all of us, it is impossible that the moralist and the sociologist 
should not be required to take them into account. True, it 
has only been a chosen few to dig down, first beneath 
the strata of the acquired, then beneath nature, and so get 
back into the very impetus of life. If such an effort could be 
generalized, the impetus would not have stopped short at 
the human species, nor consequently at the closed society, as 
if before a blank wall. It is none the less true that these 
privileged ones would fain draw humanity after them; since 
they cannot communicate to the world at large the deepest 
elements of their spiritual condition, they transpose it super- 
ficially; they seek a translation of the dynamic into the static 
such as society may accept and stabilize by education. Now 
they can only succeed in the measure in which they have taken 
nature into consideration. Humanity as a whole cannot bend 
nature to its will. But it can get round it. And this is possible 
only if its general configuration is known. The task would be 
a difficult one, if it obliged us to undertake the study of 
psychology in general. But we are dealing here with only one 
particular point, human nature in so far as it is predisposed 
to a certain social form. We suggest that there is a natural 
human society, vaguely prefigured in us, that nature has 
taken care to supply us with a diagram of it beforehand, while 
leaving our intelligence and our will entirely free to work in 
that direction. The diagram, vague and incomplete, corre- 
sponds, in the realm of reasonable and free activity, to what 
is, in the case of instinct, the clear-cut design of the ant-hill 
or the hive at the other terminal point of evolution. So that 
all we have to do is to get back to the simple original sketch. 
But how is it to be found, with the acquired overlaying the 
natural? We should be at a loss to give the answer if we had to 
supply an automatically applicable method of research. The 
truth is that we have to grope our way tentatively, by a 
system of cross-checking, following simultaneously several 

one point in space and time and only partially succeeded, thus giving rise 
to "men" to whom we may, if we like, give that name, but who are not 
necessarily our ancestors. 


methods, each of which will lead only to possibilities or prob- 
abilities: by their mutual interplay the results will neutralize 
or reinforce one another, leading to reciprocal verification and 
correction. Thus, we shall take "primitive peoples" into 
account, without forgetting that here also a layer of acquisi- 
tions covers nature, though it may be thinner than in our 
own case. We shall observe children, but not forget that 
nature has made provision for differences of age, and that 
child nature is not necessarily human nature; above all, the 
child is imitative, and what appears to us as spontaneous is 
often the effect of an education we have unwittingly been 
giving him. But the main and essential source of information 
is bound to be introspection. We must search for the bed- 
rock of sociability, and also of unsociability, which would be 
perceptible to our consciousness, if established society had 
not imbued us with habits and dispositions which adjust us 
to it. Of these strata we are no longer aware, save at rare 
intervals, and then in a flash. We must recapture that 
moment of vision and abide by it. 

Let us begin by saying that man was designed for very small 
societies. And it is generally admitted that primitive com- 
munities were small. But we must add that the original state 
of mind survives, hidden away beneath the habits, without 
which indeed there would be no civilization. Driven inwards, 
powerless, it yet lives on in the depths of consciousness. If it 
does not go so far as to determine acts, yet it manifests itself 
in words. In a great nation certain districts may be admini- 
stered to the general satisfaction; but where is the govern- 
ment that the governed go so far as to call a good one? They 
think they have praised it quite enough when they say it is 
not so bad as the others and, in this sense only, the best. Here 
the disapproval is congenital. In fact, the art of governing a 
great people is the only one for which there exists no technical 
training, no effective education, especially when we come to 
the highest posts. The extreme scarcity of political leaders of 
any calibre is owing to the fact that they are called upon to 
decide at any moment, and in detail, problems which the 


increased size of societies may well have rendered insoluble. 
Study the history of the great modern nations: you will find 
plenty of great scientists, great artists, great soldiers, great 
specialists in every line but how many great statesmen? 

Yet nature, which ordained small societies, left them an 
opening for expansion. For she also ordained war, or at least 
she made the conditions of man's life such that war was 
inevitable. Now, the menace of war can determine several 
small societies to unite against a common danger. It is true 
that these unions are rarely lasting. In any case they lead to 
an assemblage of societies which is of the same order of 
magnitude as each single unit. It is rather in another sense 
that war is the origin of empires. These are born of conquest. 
Even if the war at the outset was not one of conquest, 
that is what it becomes ultimately, because the victor 
will have found it so convenient to appropriate the lands 
of the vanquished, and even their populations, and thus 
profit by their labour. In this way the great Eastern 
empires of bygone days were formed. They fell into 
decay under various influences, but in reality because they 
were too unwieldy to live. When the victor grants to the 
conquered populations a semblance of independence, the 
grouping lasts longer: witness the Roman Empire. But that 
the primitive instinct persists, that it exercises a disintegrating 
effect, there is no doubt. Leave it to operate, and the political 
construction crumbles. It was thus that the feudal system 
came into being in different countries, as the result of differ- 
ent events, under different conditions; the only common 
factor was the suppression of the force which was preventing 
the breaking-up of society; the break-up then took place 
spontaneously. If great nations have been able to build them- 
selves up firmly in modern times, this is because constraint, 
a cohesive force working from without and from above on the 
whole complex, has little by little given way to a principle of 
unity arising from the very heart of each of the elementary 
societies grouped together, that is to say, from the very seat 
of the disruptive forces to which an uninterrupted resistance 
has to be opposed. This principle, the only one that can 


possibly neutralize the tendency to disruption, is patriotism. 
The ancients were well acquainted with it; they adored their 
country, and it is one of their poets who said that it is sweet 
to die for her. But it is a far cry from that attachment to the 
city, a group still devoted to a god who stands by it in battle, 
to the patriotism which is as much a pacific as a warlike virtue, 
which may be tinged with mysticism, which mingles no 
calculations with its religion, which overspreads a great 
country and rouses a nation, which draws to itself the best 
in all souls, which is slowly and reverently evolved out of 
memories and hopes, out of poetry and love, with a faint 
perfume of every moral beauty under heaven, like the honey 
distilled from flowers. It took as noble a sentiment as this, 
imitating the mystic state, to overcome so deep-seated a 
sentiment as the selfishness of the tribe. 

Now what is the regime of a society fresh from the hands 
of nature? It is possible that humanity did in fact begin as 
scattered and isolated family groups. But these were mere 
embryonic societies, and the philosopher should no more seek 
in them the essential tendencies of social life than the 
naturalist should study the habits of a species by confining 
his attention to the embryo. We must take society when it is 
complete, that is to say, capable of defending itself, and con- 
sequently, however small, organized for war. What then, in 
this precise sense, will its natural government be? If it were 
not desecrating the Greek words to apply them to a state of 
savagery, we should say that it is monarchic or oligarchic, 
probably both. These two systems are indistinguishable in the 
rudimentary state: there must be a chief, and there is no 
community without privileged individuals, who borrow from 
or give to the chief something of his prestige, or rather who 
draw it, as he does, from some supernatural power. Authority 
is absolute on one side, obedience absolute on the other. We 
have said time and again that human societies and hymen- 
opterous societies stand at the extremities of the two principal 
lines of biological evolution. Heaven forbid that we should 
assimilate them to each other! Man is intelligent and free. 
But we must always remember that social life was part of the 


structural plan of the human species just as in that of the bee, 
that it was a necessary part, that nature could not rely 
exclusively on our free will, that accordingly she had to see to 
it that one or a few individuals should command and the rest 
obey. In the insect world, the diversity of social function is 
bound up with a difference of organization; you have " poly- 
morphism". Shall we then say that in human societies we have 
"dimorphism", no longer both physical and psychical as in 
the insect, but psychical only? We think so, though it must 
be understood that this dimorphism does not separate men 
into two hard and fast categories, those that are born leaders 
and those that are born subjects. Nietzsche's mistake was to 
believe in a separation of this kind: on the one hand "slaves", 
on the other "masters". The truth is that dimorphism gener- 
ally makes of each of us both a leader with the instinct to 
command and a subject ready to obey, although the second 
tendency predominates to the extent of being the only one 
apparent in most men. It is comparable to that of insects in 
that it implies two organizations, two indivisible systems of 
qualities (certain of which would be defects in the moralist's 
eyes): we plump for the one system or the other, not in detail, 
as would be the case if it were a matter of contracting habits, 
but at a single stroke, kaleidoscope-fashion, as is bound to 
happen in a natural dimorphism, exactly comparable to that 
of the embryo with the choice between two sexes. We have a 
clear vision of this in times of revolution. Unassuming citizens, 
up to that moment humble and obedient, wake up one fine 
day with pretensions to be leaders of men. The kaleidoscope 
which had been held steady has now shifted one notch and 
lo! a complete metamorphosis! The result is sometimes good: 
great men of action have been revealed who were themselves 
unaware of their real capacity. But it is generally unfortunate. 
Within honest and gentle men there rushes up from the 
depths a ferocious personality, that of the leader who is a 
failure. And here we have a characteristic trait of that 
"political animal", man. 

We shall not go so far, indeed, as to say that one of the attri- 
butes of the leader dormant within us is ferocity. But it is certain 


that nature, at once destructive of individuals and productive 
of species, must have willed the ruthless leader if she provided 
for leaders at all. The whole of history bears witness to this. 
Incredible wholesale slaughter, preceded by ghastly tortures, 
has been ordered in absolute cold blood by men who have 
themselves handed down the record of these things, graven 
in stone. It may be argued that such things happened in very 
remote times. But if the form has changed, if Christianity has 
put an end to certain crimes, or at least obtained that they be 
not made a thing to boast of, murder has all too often remained 
the ratio ultima, if not prima, of politics. An abomination no 
doubt, but imputable to nature as much as to man. For nature 
has at her disposal neither imprisonment nor exile; she knows 
only sentence of death. We may be allowed perhaps to recall 
a memory. It so happened that we met certain distinguished 
foreigners, coming from far-off lands, but dressed as we were, 
speaking French as we did, moving about, affable and amiable, 
among us. Shortly after we learned from a daily paper that, 
once back in their country and affiliated to opposite parties, 
one of them had had the other hanged, with all the para- 
phernalia of justice, simply to get rid of an awkward opponent. 
The tale was illustrated with a photograph of the gallows. 
The accomplished man of the world was dangling, half- 
naked, before the gaping crowd. Horrible, most horrible! 
Civilized men all, but the original political instinct had blown 
civilization to the winds and laid bare the nature underneath. 
Men who would think themselves bound to make the punish- 
meht fit the offence, if they had to deal with a guilty man, go 
to the extreme of killing an innocent person at the call of 
political expediency. Similarly do the worker bees stab the 
drones to death when they consider that the hive needs them 
no longer. 

But let us leave aside the temperament of the "leader" and 
consider the respective sentiments of ruler and ruled. These 
sentiments will be clearer where the line of demarcation is 
more distinct, in a society already considerable, but which 
has grown without radically modifying the "natural society". 
The governing class, in which we include the king if there is 


a king, may have been recruited in the course of history by 
different methods; but it always believes itself to belong to a 
superior race. There is nothing surprising in this. What might 
surprise us more, if we were not familar with the dimorphism 
of social man, is that the people themselves should be con- 
vinced of this innate superiority. Doubtless the oligarchy is 
careful to foster this sentiment. If it owes its origin to war, it 
will have faith and compel others to have faith in its own 
congenital military virtues, handed down from father to son. 
And indeed it maintains a real superiority of strength, thanks 
to the discipline it imposes on itself, and to the measures it 
takes to prevent the inferior class from organizing itself in its 
turn. Yet, in such a case, experience should show the ruled 
that their rulers are men like themselves. But instinct resists. 
It only begins to waver when the upper class itself invites it 
to do so. Sometimes the upper class does this unwittingly, 
through obvious incapacity, or by such crying abuses that it 
undermines the faith placed in it. At other times the invitation 
is intentional, certain members of the class turning against it, 
often from personal ambition, sometimes from a sentiment of 
justice: by stooping down towards the lower classes, they dispel 
the illusion fostered by distance. It was in this way that some 
of the nobles collaborated in the French Revolution of 1789, 
which abolished the privilege of birth. Generally speaking, 
the initiative of assaults against inequality justified or un- 
justified has come rather from the upper classes, from those 
that were better off, and not from the lower, as might have 
been expected if it were a case of a mere clash between dass 
interests. Thus it was the upper middle class, and not the 
working classes, who played the leading part in the Revolu- 
tions of 1830 and 1848, aimed (the second in particular) 
against the privilege of wealth. Later it was men of the 
educated classes who demanded education for all. The truth 
is that, if an aristocracy believes naturally, religiously, in its 
native superiority, the respect it inspires is no less religious, 
no less natural. 

It is easy, then, to understand that humanity should have 
arrived at democracy as a later development (for they were 


false democracies, those cities of antiquity, based on slavery, 
relieved by this fundamental iniquity of the biggest and most 
excruciating problems). Of all political systems, it is indeed 
the furthest removed from nature, the only one to transcend, 
at least in intention, the conditions of the " closed society ". 
It confers on man inviolable rights. These rights, in order to 
remain inviolate, demand of all men an incorruptible fidelity 
to duty. It therefore takes for its matter an ideal man, respect- 
ing others as he does himself, inserting himself into obliga- 
tions which he holds to be absolute, coinciding so closely 
with this absolute that it is no longer possible to say whether 
it is the duty that confers the rights or the right which imposes 
the duty. The citizen thus defined is both "law-maker and 
subject", as Kant has it. The citizens as a whole, that is the 
people, are therefore sovereign. Such is democracy in theory. 
It proclaims liberty, demands equality, and reconciles these 
two hostile sisters by reminding them that they are sisters, by 
exalting above everything fraternity. Looked at from this 
angle, the republican motto shows that the third term dispels 
the oft-noted contradiction between the two others, and that 
the essential thing is fraternity: a fact which would make it 
possible to say that democracy is evangelical in essence and 
that its motive power is love. Its sentimental origins could be 
found in the soul of Rousseau, its philosophic principles in 
the works of Kant, its religious basis in both Kant and 
Rousseau: we know how much Kant owed to his pietism, and 
Rousseau to an interplay of Protestantism and Catholicism. 
The American Declaration of Independence (1776), which 
served as a model for the Declaration of the Rights of Man 
in 1791, has indeed a Puritan ring: "We hold these truths to 
be self-evident . . . that all men are endowed by their Creator 
with unalienable rights, etc." Objections occasioned by the 
vagueness of the democratic formula arise from the fact that 
the original religious character has been misunderstood. How 
is it possible to ask for a precise definition of liberty and of 
equality when the future must lie open to all sorts of pro- 
gress, and especially to the creation of new conditions under 
which it will be possible to have forms of liberty and equality 


which are impossible of realization, perhaps of conception, 
to-day? One can do no more than trace the general outlines; 
their content will improve as and when fraternity provides. 
Ama, etfac quod vis l The formula of non-democratic society, 
wishing its motto to tally, word for word, with that of demo- 
cracy, would be "authority, hierarchy, immobility". There 
you have then democracy in its essence. Of course it must be 
considered only as an ideal, or rather a signpost indicating 
the way in which humanity should progress. In the first 
place, it was more than anything else as a protest that it was 
introduced into the world. Every sentence of the Declaration 
of the Rights of Man is a challenge to some abuse. The main 
thing was to put an end to intolerable suffering. Summing 
up the grievances set forth in the memoirs presented to the 
Stats GenerauXy Emile Faguet has written somewhere that 
the French Revolution was not made for the sake of liberty 
and equality, but simply because "people were starving". 
Supposing this to be true, we must explain why it was 
at a given time that people refused to go on "starving". 
It is none the less true that, if the French Revolution 
formulated things as they should be, the object was to do 
away with things as they were. Now, it sometimes happens 
that the intention with which an idea is started remains 
invisibly attached to it, like the direction to the arrow. 
The democratic precepts, first enunciated with a definite 
idea of protest, provide evidence of their origin. They are 
found convenient to prevent, to reject, to overthrow; it is 
not easy to gather from them the positive indication of what 
is to be done. Above all, they are only applicable if trans- 
posed, absolute and semi-evangelical as they primitively were, 
into terms of purely relative morality or rather of general 
utility; and the transposition always risks turning into an in- 
curvation in the direction of private interest. But it is not 
necessary to catalogue the objections raised against democracy 
nor indeed the replies to those objections. We merely wanted 
to show, in the democratic mood, a mighty effort in a direction 
contrary to that of nature. 
Now, we have pointed to certain features of natural society. 


Taken together, they compose a countenance whose expres- 
sion can be easily interpreted. Self-centredness, cohesion, 
hierarchy, absolute authority of the chief, all this means dis- 
cipline, the war-spirit. Did nature will war? Let us repeat 
once again that nature willed nothing at all, if we mean 
by will a faculty of making particular decisions. But she can- 
not posit an animal species without implicitly outlining the 
attitudes and movement which arise from its structure and 
extend that structure. It is in this sense that she willed war. 
She endowed man with a tool-making intelligence. Instead of 
supplying him with tools, as she did for a considerable number 
of the animal species, she preferred that he should make 
them himself. Now man is necessarily the owner of his tools, 
at any rate while he is using them. But since they are things 
apart from him, they can be taken away from him; it is easier 
to acquire them ready-made than to make them. Above all, 
they are meant for action in some specific avocation, to be 
used for hunting or fishing, for example; the group of which 
he is a member may have fixed its choice on a forest, a lake, 
a river; another group may find it more convenient to settle 
in that very same place than to look further afield. There is 
now nothing for it but to fight the matter out. We have taken 
the case of a hunting forest, or a lake for fishing; it may just 
as well be a matter of fields to be cultivated, women to be 
seized, slaves to be carried off. In the same way reasons will 
be brought forward to justify such dealings. But no matter 
the thing taken, the motive adduced: the origin of war is 
ownership, individual or collective, and since humanity is 
predestined to ownership by its structure, war is natural. So 
strong, indeed, is the war instinct, that it is the first to appear 
when we scratch below the surface of civilization in search of 
nature. We all know how little boys love fighting. They get 
their heads punched. But they have the satisfaction of having 
punched the other fellow's head. It has been justly said that 
childhood's games were the preparatory training to which 
nature prompts them, with a view to the task laid on grown 
men. But we can go further, and look on most of the wars 
recorded in history as preparatory training or sport. When 


we consider the futility of the motives which brought about 
a goodly number of them, we are reminded of the duellists in 
Marion Delorme running each other through the body "for 
no reason, for the fun of the thing", or else the Irishman 
cited by Lord Bryce, who could not see two men exchanging 
fisticuffs in the street without asking, "Is this a private affair, 
or may anyone join in?" On the other hand, if we put side by 
side with these casual scraps those decisive wars such as led 
to the annihilation of a whole people, we realize that the 
second account for the first: a war-instinct was inevitable, 
and because it existed to meet the contingency of those savage 
wars, which we might call natural, a number of incidental 
wars have occurred, simply to prevent the sword from rust- 
ing. Think now of the enthusiasm of a people at the outbreak 
of a war! This is doubtless, to a certain extent, a defensive 
reaction against fear, a spontaneous stimulation of courage. 
But there is also the feeling that we were made for a life of 
risk and adventure, as though peace were but a pause between 
two wars. The enthusiasm quickly dies down, for the suffering 
is considerable. If we leave out the last war, however, where the 
horror was beyond anything we believed possible, it is strange 
to see how soon the sufferings of war are forgotten in time of 
peace. It is asserted that woman is provided with a special 
psychical mechanism which causes her to forget the pains of 
childbirth: a too complete recollection might prevent her 
from having another child. Some mechanism of the same 
order really seems to be operative in favour of the horrors 
of war, especially among young nations. Nature has taken 
yet further precautions in this direction. She has interposed 
between foreigners and ourselves a cunningly woven veil of 
ignorance, preconceptions and prejudices. That we should 
know nothing about a country to which we have never been 
is not surprising. But that, being ignorant of it, we should 
criticize it, and nearly always unfavourably, is a fact which 
calls for explanation. Anyone who has lived outside his own 
country, and has later tried to initiate his countrymen into 
what we call a foreign "mentality", has felt in them an instinct- 
ive resistance. The resistance is not any stronger the more 


remote the country. Very much the contrary, it varies rather 
in inverse ratio to the distance. It is those whom we have the 
greatest chance of meeting whom we least want to know. 
Nature could have found no surer way of making every 
foreigner a virtual enemy, for if perfect mutual knowledge 
does not necessarily conduce to a fellow-feeling, it at least 
precludes hate. We had examples of this during the war. 
A professor of German was just as patriotic as any other 
Frenchman, just as ready to lay down his life, just as "worked 
up" even against Germany; yet it was not the same thing. 
One corner was set apart. Anyone who is thoroughly familiar 
with the language and literature of a people cannot be wholly 
its enemy. This should be borne in mind when we ask 
education to pave the way for international understanding. 
The mastery of a foreign tongue, by making possible the 
impregnation of the mind by the corresponding literature and 
civilization, may at one stroke do away with the prejudice 
ordained by nature against foreigners in general. But this is 
not the place to enumerate all the visible outward effects of 
the latent prejudice. Let us only say that the two opposing 
maxims, Homo homini deus and Homo homini lupus, are easily 
reconcilable. When we formulate the first, we are thinking of 
some fellow-countryman. The other applies to foreigners. 

We have just said that besides incidental wars there are 
essential wars, for which the war-instinct, apparently, was 
made. Among these are the great conflicts of our own times. 
The object is less and less conquest for conquest's sake. 
Pe6ples no longer go to war for the sake of wounded pride, 
prestige or glory. They fight to avoid starvation, so they say 
in reality to maintain a certain standard of living, below which 
they believe that life would not be worth while. Gone is the 
idea of the delegating of the fighting to a limited number of 
soldiers chosen to represent the nation. Gone anything resem- 
bling a duel. All must fight against all, as did the hordes of 
the early days. Only, the fighting is done with arms forged 
by our civilization, and the slaughter surpasses in horror any- 
thing the ancients could have even dreamed of. At the pace 
at which science is moving, that day is not far off when one 


of the two adversaries, through some secret process which he 
was holding in reserve, will have the means of annihilating his 
opponent. The vanquished may vanish off the face of the 

Are things bound to follow their natural course? Men 
whom we unhesitatingly rank among the benefactors of 
humanity have fortunately interposed. Like all great optim- 
ists they began by assuming as solved the problem to be 
solved. They founded the League of Nations. Now, the 
results already obtained are more than we dared to hope. For 
the difficulty of abolishing war is greater even than is gener- 
ally realized by most people who have no faith in its abolition. 
Pessimists though they are, they yet agree with the optimists 
in considering the case of two peoples on the verge of war as 
similar to that of two individuals with a quarrel; only, in their 
opinion it will be materially impossible to compel the former, 
like the latter, to bring this difference before the court and 
accept its decision. Yet there is a radical distinction. Even 
if the League of Nations had at its disposal a seemingly 
adequate armed force (and even so the recalcitrant nation 
would still have over the League the advantage of the initial 
impetus; even so the unexpectedness of a scientific discovery 
would render increasingly unforeseeable the nature of the 
resistance the League of Nations would have to organize), it 
would come up against the deep-rooted war-instinct under- 
lying civilization; whereas individuals who leave to the judge 
the business of settling a dispute are in some obscure way 
encouraged to do so by the instinct of discipline immanent 
in the closed society: a quarrel has momentarily upset their 
normal position which was a complete insertion into society; 
but they come back to this position, as the pendulum swings 
back to the vertical. So that the difficulty is far greater. Is it 
vain, however, to try and overcome it? 

We think not. The object of the present work was to in- 
vestigate the origins of morality and religion. We have been 
led to certain conclusions. We might leave it at that. But 
since at the basis of our conclusions was a radical distinction 
between the closed and the open society, since the tendencies 


of the closed society have, in our opinion, persisted, in- 
eradicable, in the society that is on the way to becoming an 
open one, since all these instincts of discipline originally con- 
verged towards the war-instinct, we are bound to ask to what 
extent the primitive instinct can be repressed or circum- 
vented, and answer by a few supplementary considerations a 
question which occurs to us quite naturally. 

For, though the war-instinct does exist independently, it 
none the less hinges on rational motives. History tells us that 
these motives have been extremely varied. They become in- 
creasingly few as war becomes more terrible. The last war, 
together with those future ones which we can dimly foresee, 
if we are indeed doomed to have more wars, is bound up with 
the industrial character of our civilization. If we want to get 
an outline, simplified and stylized, of modern conflicts, we 
shall have to begin by picturing nations as purely agricultural 
populations. They live on the produce of their soil. Suppose 
they have just enough to feed themselves. They will increase 
in proportion as they obtain a higher yield from their soil. So 
far, so good. But if there be a surplus of population, and if 
this surplus population refuses to overflow into the world 
outside, or cannot do so because foreign countries close their 
doors, where will it find its food? Industry is called upon 
to rectify the situation. The surplus population will become 
factory- workers. If the country does not possess the motive 
power for its machines, the iron to make them, the raw 
material for its manufactured goods, it will try to borrow 
them from foreign countries. It will pay its debts, and receive 
the food it cannot obtain through home production, by 
sending back manufactured products to other countries. The 
factory-workers will thus become "internal emigrants". The 
foreign country provides them with employment, just as if 
they had actually settled within its frontiers; it prefers to 
leave them or perhaps they prefer to stay where they are; 
but on foreign countries they are dependent. If these countries 
cease to accept their products, or cease to supply them with 
the material for manufacture, they are just condemned to 
starve to death unless they decide, carrying the whole 



country with them, to go and seize what is refused to them. 
That means war. It goes without saying that things never 
happen so simply as that. Without being exactly in danger of 
starving to death, people consider that life is not worth living 
if they cannot have comforts, pleasures, luxuries; the national 
industry is considered insufficient if it provides for a bare 
existence, if it does not provide affluence; a country considers 
itself incomplete if it has not good ports, colonies, etc. All 
this may lead to war. But the outline we have just traced 
sufficiently emphasizes the main causes: increase in popula- 
tion, closing of markets, cutting off of fuel and raw material. 
To eliminate these causes or mitigate their effect, such is 
the essential task of an international organism with the aboli- 
tion of war as its aim. The gravest of all is over-population. 
In a country with too low a birth-rate, like France, the State 
should doubtless encourage the increase of population: a 
certain French economist, though the most thorough-going 
opponent of State intervention, used to demand that a bonus 
be granted to families for every child after the third. But then, 
conversely, would it not be possible, in over-populated coun- 
tries, to impose more or less heavy taxes on every super- 
numerary child? The State would have the right to interfere, 
to establish the paternity, in short, take measures which under 
other circumstances would be inquisitorial, since the State is 
tacitly expected to guarantee the food supply of the country 
and hence that of the child that has been brought into the 
world. We recognize the difficulty of fixing an official limit to 
the population, even if the figure be elastic. If we give 'the 
outline of a solution, it is merely to point out that the problem 
does not strike us as insoluble: more competent judges will 
find something better. But one fact is certain: Europe is over- 
populated, the world will soon be in the same condition, and 
if the self-reproduction of man is not "rationalized", as his 
labour is beginning to be, we shall have war. In no other 
matter is it so dangerous to rely upon instinct. Antique mytho- 
logy realized this when it coupled the goddess of love with 
the god of war. Let Venus have her way, and she will bring 
you Mars. You will not escape regimentation (an unpleasant 


word, but an unavoidable thing). What will happen when 
problems almost equally grave arise, such as the distribution 
of raw materials, the more or less unrestricted movement of 
products, the general problem of dealing justly with opposing 
demands represented by both sides as vital? It is a dangerous 
mistake to think that an international institution can obtain 
permanent peace without having the authority to intervene 
in the legislation of the various countries, and even perhaps 
in their government. Maintain the principle of the sovereignty 
of the State, if you will: it is bound to be whittled down in its 
application to individual cases. We repeat, no single one of 
these difficulties is insurmountable, if an adequate portion of 
humanity is determined to surmount them. But we must face 
up to them, and realize what has to be given up if war is to 
be abolished. 

Now, would it not be possible to shorten the road before us, 
or even to smooth away all the difficulties at once, instead of 
negotiating them one by one? Let us set aside the main 
question, that of population, which will have to be resolved 
for its own sake, whatever happens. The others arise prin- 
cipally from the direction taken by our existence since the 
great expansion of industry. We demand material comfort, 
amenities and luxuries. We set out to enjoy ourselves. What 
if our life were to become more ascetic? Mysticism is un- 
doubtedly at the origin of great moral transformations. And 
mankind seems to be as far away as ever from it. But who 
knows? In the course of our last chapter we fancied we had 
caught sight of a possible link between the mysticism of the 
West and its industrial civilization. The matter needs to be 
gone into thoroughly. Everybody feels that the immediate 
future is going to depend largely on the organization of 
industry and the conditions it will impose or accept. We have 
just seen that the problem of peace between nations is con- 
tingent on this problem. That of peace at home depends on 
it just as much. Must we live in fear, or may we live in hope? 
For a long time it was taken for granted that industrialism 
and mechanization would bring happiness to mankind. To- 
day one is ready to lay to their door all the ills from which we 


suffer. Never, it is said, was humanity more athirst for 
pleasure, luxury and wealth. An irresistible force seems to 
drive it more and more violently towards the satisfaction of 
its basest desires. That may be, but let us go back to the im- 
pulsion at the origin. If it was a strong one, a slight deviation 
at the beginning may have been enough to produce a wider 
and wider divergence between the point aimed at and the 
object reached. In that case, we should not concern ourselves 
so much with the divergence as with the impulsion. True, 
things never get done of themselves. Humanity will only 
change if it is intent upon changing. But perhaps it has al- 
ready prepared the means of doing so. Perhaps it is nearer 
the goal than it thinks. Since we have brought a charge 
against industrial effort, let us examine it more closely. This 
will form the conclusion of the present work. 

The alternations of ebb and flow in history have often been 
discussed. All prolonged action, it would seem, brings about 
a reaction in the opposite direction. Then it starts anew, and 
the pendulum swings on indefinitely. True, in this case the 
pendulum is endowed with memory, and is not the same 
when it swings back as on the outward swing, since it is then 
richer by all the intermediate experience. This is why the 
image of a spiral movement, which has sometimes been used, 
is perhaps more correct than that of the oscillations of a 
pendulum. As a matter of fact, there are psychological and 
social causes which we might a priori predict as productive of 
such effects. The uninterrupted enjoyment of an eagerly- 
sought advantage engenders weariness or indifference; it 
seldom fulfils completely its promise; it brings with it unfore- 
seen drawbacks; it ends by making conspicuous the good side 
of what has been given up and arousing a desire to get it back. 
The desire will be found principally in the rising generations, 
who have not experienced the ills of the past, and have not 
had to extricate themselves from them. Whereas the parents 
congratulate themselves on the present state of things as an 
acquisition for which they remember paying dearly, the 
children give it no more thought than the air they breathe; on 


the other hand, they are alive to disadvantages which are 
nothing but the reverse side of the advantages so painfully 
won for them. Thus may arise a wish to put the clock back. 
Such actions and reactions are characteristic of the modern 
State, not by reason of any historical fatality, but because 
parliamentary government was conceived in part with the 
very object of providing a channel for discontent. The powers 
that be receive but moderate praise for the good they do; they 
are there to do it; but their slightest mistake is scored; and 
all mistakes are stored up, until their accumulated weight 
causes the government to fall. If there are two opposing 
parties and two only, the game will go on with perfect 
regularity. Each team will come back into power, bringing 
with it the prestige of principles which have apparently re- 
mained intact during the period in which it had no respon- 
sibility to bear: principles sit with the Opposition. In reality 
the Opposition will have profited, if it is intelligent, by the 
experience it has left the party in power to work out; it -will 
have more or less modified the content of its ideas and hence 
the significance of its principles. Thus progress becomes 
possible, in spite of the swing of the pendulum, or rather 
because of it, if only men care about it. But, in such cases, the 
oscillation between the two opposite extremes is the result of 
certain very simple contrivances set up by society, or certain 
very obvious tendencies of the individual. It is not the effect 
of a paramount necessity towering above the particular causes 
of alternation and dominating human events in general. Does 
such a necessity exist? 

We do not believe in the fatality of history. There is no 
obstacle which cannot be broken down by wills sufficiently 
keyed up, if they deal with it in time. There is thus no un- 
escapable historic law. But there are biological laws; and the 
human societies, in so far as they are partly willed by nature, 
pertain to biology on this particular point. If the evolution 
of the organized world takes place according to certain laws, 
I mean by virtue of certain forces, it is impossible that the 
psychological evolution of individual and social man should 
entirely renounce these habits of life. Now we have shown 


elsewhere that the essence of a vital tendency is to develop 
fan-wise, creating, by the mere fact of its growth, divergent 
directions, each of which will receive a certain portion of the 
impetus. We added that there was nothing mysterious about 
this law. It simply expresses the fact that a tendency is the 
forward thrust of an indistinct multiplicity, which is, more- 
over, indistinct, and multiplicity, only if we consider it in retro- 
spect, when the multitudinous views taken of its past undivided 
character allow us to reconstruct it with elements which 
were actually created by its development. Let us imagine that 
orange is the only colour that has as yet made its appearance 
in the world. Would it be already a composite of yellow and 
red? Obviously not. But it will have been composed of yellow 
and red when these two colours are born in their turn; from 
that hour the original orange colour can be looked at from the 
twofold point of view of red and yellow; and if we supposed, 
by a trick of fancy, that yellow and red appeared through 
an intensification of orange, we should have a very simple 
example of what we call fan- wise growth. But there is no real 
necessity for fancy and comparisons. All we need is to look at 
life without any idea of artificial recomposition supervening. 
Some psychologists hold the act of volition to be a composite 
reflex, others are inclined to see in the reflex activity a curtail- 
ment of volition. The truth is that the reflex and the volun- 
tary actions embody two views, now rendered possible, of a 
primordial, indivisible activity, which was neither the one 
nor the other, but which becomes retroactively, through them, 
both at once. We could say the same of instinct and intelli- 
gence, of animal life and vegetable life, of many other pairs of 
divergent and complementary tendencies. Only, in the general 
evolution of life, the tendencies thus created by a process of 
dichotomy are to be found in species different from one 
another; they have set forth, each independently, to seek their 
fortunes in the world; and the material form they have 
assumed prevents them from reuniting to bring back again, 
stronger than it was, more complex, more fully evolved, the 
original tendency. Not so in the evolution of the psychical 
and social life. Here the tendencies, born of the process of 


splitting, develop in the same individual, or in the same 
society. As a rule, they can only be developed in succession. 
If there are two of them, as is generally the case, one of them 
will be clung to first; with this one we shall move more or 
less forward, generally as far as possible; then, with what we 
have acquired in the course of this evolution, we shall come 
back to take up the one we left behind. That one will then be 
developed in its turn, the former being neglected, and our 
new effort will be continued until, reinforced by new acquisi- 
tions, we can take up the first one again and push it further 
forward still. Since, during the operation, we are entirely 
given up to one of the two tendencies, since it alone counts, 
we are apt to say that it alone is positive and that the other 
was only its negation; if we like to put things in this way, the 
other is, as a matter of fact, its opposite. It will then be said 
and this will be more or less true, as the case may be 
that the progress was due to an oscillation between the two 
opposites, the situation moreover not being the same and 
ground having been gained by the time the pendulum has 
swung back to its original position. But it does sometimes 
happen that this is quite the correct way of putting it, and that 
there was really oscillation between two opposites. This is 
when a tendency, advantageous in itself, cannot be moderated 
otherwise than by the action of a counter-tendency, which 
hence becomes advantageous also. It would seem as though 
the wise course, then, would be a co-operation of the two 
tendencies, the first intervening when circumstances require, 
the other restraining it when it threatens to go too far. Un- 
fortunately, it is difficult to say where exaggeration and danger 
begin. Sometimes the mere fact of going further than 
appeared reasonable leads to new surroundings, creates a 
new situation which removes the danger, at the same time 
emphasizing the advantage. This is especially the case with 
the very general tendencies which determine the trend of a 
society, and whose development necessarily extends over a 
more or less considerable number of generations. An intelli- 
gence, even a superhuman one, cannot say where this will 
lead to, since action on the move creates its own route, creates 


to a very great extent the conditions under which it is to be 
fulfilled, and thus baffles all calculation. In such a case, one 
pushes further and further afield, often only stopping on the 
very brink of disaster. The counter-tendency then steps into 
the place that has been vacated; alone, in its turn, it will go 
as far as it can go. If the other was called action, then 
this will be reaction. As the two tendencies, if they had 
journeyed together, would have moderated each other, as 
their interpenetration in an undivided primitive tendency is 
the very definition of moderation, the mere fact of taking up 
all the room imparts to each of them such an impetus that 
it bolts ahead as the barriers collapse one by one; there 
is something frenzied about it. Now we must not make 
exaggerated use of the word "law" in a field which is that 
of liberty, but we may use this convenient term when we 
are confronted with important facts which show sufficient 
regularity. So we will call law of dichotomy that law which 
apparently brings about a materialization, by a mere splitting 
up, of tendencies which began by being two photographic 
views, so to speak, of one and the same tendency. And we 
propose to designate law of twofold frenzy the imperative 
demand, forthcoming from each of the two tendencies as soon 
as it is materialized by the splitting, to be pursued to the very 
end as if there was an end! Once more, it is difficult not to 
wonder whether the simple tendency would not have done 
better to grow without dividing in two, thus being kept within 
bounds by the very coincidence of its propulsive power with 
the power of stopping, which would then have been virtually, 
but not actually, a distinct and contrary force of impulsion. 
There would have been, then, no risk of stumbling into 
absurdity; there would have been an insurance against 
disaster. Yes, but this would not have given the maximum of 
creation, in quantity and in quality. It is necessary to keep 
on to the bitter end in one direction, to find out what it will 
yield: when we can go no further, we turn back, with all we 
have acquired, to set off in the direction from which we had 
turned aside. Doubtless, looked at from the outside, these 
comings and goings appear only as the opposing principles of 


the two tendencies, the futile attempt of the one to thwart the 
other, the ultimate failure of the second and the revenge of 
the first: man loves the dramatic; he is strongly inclined to 
pick out from a whole more or less extended period of history 
those characteristics which make of it a struggle between two 
parties, two societies or two principles, each of them in turn 
coming off victorious. But the struggle is here only the super- 
ficial aspect of an advance. The truth is that a tendency on 
which two different views are possible can only put forth its 
maximum, in quantity or quality, if it materializes these two 
possibilities into moving realities, each one of which leaps 
forward and monopolizes the available space, while the other 
is on the watch unceasingly for its own turn to come. Only 
thus will the content of the original tendency develop, if 
indeed we can speak of a content when no one, not even the 
tendency itself if it achieved consciousness, could tell what 
will issue from it. It supplies the effort, and the result is a 
surprise. Of such are the workings of nature; the struggles 
which she stages for us do not betoken pugnacity so much as 
curiosity. And it is precisely when it imitates nature, when it 
yields to the original impulsion, that the progress of humanity 
assumes a certain regularity and conforms though very im- 
perfectly, be it said to such laws as those we have stated. 
But the time has come to close this all too long parenthesis. 
Let us merely show how our two laws would apply in the 
case which led us to open it. 

We were dealing with the concern for comfort and luxury 
which has apparently become the main preoccupation of 
humanity. When we consider how it has developed the spirit 
of invention, that so many inventions are the application of 
science, and that science is destined to extend its scope 
indefinitely, we should be tempted to believe in indefinite 
progress in the same direction. Never, indeed, do the satis- 
factions with which new inventions meet old needs induce 
humanity to leave things at that; new needs arise, just as 
imperious and increasingly numerous. We have seen the race 
for comfort proceeding faster and faster, on a track along 
which are surging ever denser crowds. To-day it is a 


stampede. But ought not this very frenzy open our eyes? Was 
there not some other frenzy to which it has succeeded, and 
which developed in the opposite direction an activity of 
which the present frenzy is the complement? In point of fact, 
it is from the fifteenth or sixteenth century onward that men 
seemed to aspire to easier material conditions. Throughout 
the Middle Ages, an ascetic ideal had predominated. There 
is no need to recall the exaggerations to which it led; here 
already you had frenzy. It may be alleged that asceticism was 
confined to a very small minority, and this is true. But just 
as mysticism, the privilege of a few, was popularized by 
religion, so concentrated asceticism, which was doubtless 
exceptional, became diluted for the rank and file of mankind 
into a general indifference to the conditions of daily existence. 
There was for one and all an absence of comfort which to us 
is astonishing. Rich and poor did without superfluities which 
we consider as necessities. It has been pointed out that if the 
lord lived better than the peasant, we must understand by this 
that he had more abundant food. 1 Otherwise, the differ- 
ence was slight. Here we are, then, in the presence of two 
divergent tendencies which have succeeded each other and 
have behaved, both of them, frantically. So, we may presume 
that they correspond to the focusing from two opposite 
positions of one primordial tendency, which in this way 
contrived to evolve from itself, in quantity and quality, every- 
thing that was in its capacity, even more than it had to give, 
proceeding along each of the two roads, one after the other, 
getting back into one direction with everything that had been 
picked up by the way in the other. That signifies oscillation 
and progress, progress by oscillation. And we should expect, 
after the ever-increasing complexity of life, a return to sim- 
plicity. This return is obviously not a certainty; the future of 
humanity remains indeterminate, precisely because it is on 
humanity that it depends. But if, ahead of us, lie only possi- 
bilities or probabilities, which we shall examine presently, we 
cannot say the same for the past: the two opposite develop- 

1 See Gina Lombroso's interesting work, La Ranfon du machinisme 
(Paris, 193)- 


ments which we have just indicated are indeed those of a 
single original tendency. 

And indeed the history of ideas bears witness to it. Out of 
Socratic thought, pursued in two different directions which 
in Socrates were complementary, came the Cyrenaic and the 
Cynic doctrines: the one insisted that we should demand 
from life the greatest possible number of satisfactions, the 
other that we should learn to do without them. They 
developed into Epicureanism and Stoicism with their two 
opposing tendencies, laxity and tension. If there were the 
least doubt about the common essence of the two mental 
attitudes to which these principles correspond, it would 
suffice to note that, in the Epicurean school itself, along with 
popular Epicureanism which was at times the unbridled 
pursuit of pleasure, there was the Epicureanism of Epicurus, 
according to which the supreme pleasure was to need no 
pleasures. The truth is that the two principles are at the heart 
of the traditional conception of happiness. Here is a word 
which is commonly used to designate something intricate 
and ambiguous, one of those ideas which humanity has 
intentionally left vague, so that each individual might inter- 
pret it after his own fashion. But in whatever sense it is under- 
stood, there is no happiness without security I mean with- 
out the prospect of being able to rely on the permanence of a 
state into which one has settled oneself. This assurance is to 
be found either in the mastering of things, or in the mastering 
of self which makes one independent of things. In both cases 
thefe is delight in one's strength, whether inwardly per- 
ceived or outwardly manifested: the one may lead to pride, 
the other to vanity. But the simplification and complication 
do indeed follow from a "dichotomy", are indeed apt to 
develop into "double frenzy", in fact have all that is required 
to alternate periodically. 

This being so, as we have said above, there is nothing 
improbable in the return to a simpler life. Science itself 
might show us the way. Whereas physics and chemistry help 
us to satisfy and encourage us to multiply our needs, it is 
conceivable that physiology and medical science may reveal 


more and more clearly to us all the dangers of this multiplica- 
tion, all the disappointments which accompany the majority 
of our satisfactions. I enjoy a well-prepared dish of meat; to 
a vegetarian, who used to like it as much as I do, the mere 
sight of meat is sickening. It may be alleged that we are both 
right, and that there is no more arguing about taste than about 
colour. Perhaps: but I cannot help noting that my vegetarian 
is thoroughly convinced he will never revert to his old inclina- 
tions, whereas I am not nearly so sure that I shall always stick 
to mine. He has been through both experiments; I have only 
tried one. His repulsion grows stronger as he fixes his atten- 
tion on it, whereas my satisfaction is largely a matter of in- 
attention and tends to pale in a strong light. I do believe it 
would fade away altogether, if decisive experiments came to 
prove, as it is not impossible they will, that I am directly and 
slowly poisoning myself by eating meat. 1 I was taught in my 
school days that the composition of foodstuffs was known, the 
requirements of our organs also, that it was possible to deduce 
from this the necessary and sufficient ration to maintain life. 
The master would have been very much surprised to hear 
that chemical analysis did not take into account "vitamins" 
whose presence in food is indispensable to health. It will 
probably be found that more than one malady, for which 
medical science has no cure, takes its remote origin from 
"deficiencies" of which we have no inkling. The only sure 
means of absorbing all we need would be to have our food 
subjected to no preparation, perhaps even (who knows) not 
cooked at all. Here again the belief in the heredity of acquired 
habits has done great harm. It is commonly said that the 
human stomach has lost the habit, that we could not feed 
ourselves nowadays like primitive man. This is true, if taken 
as meaning that we have let certain natural tendencies lie 
dormant from our infancy, and that it would be difficult to 
reawaken them in middle age. But that we are born modified 
is hardly probable: even if our stomach is different from that 

1 We hasten to state that we have no particular knowledge of this 
subject. We have chosen the example of meat as we might have that of 
any other usual food. 


of our prehistoric ancestors, the difference is not due to mere 
habit contracted down the ages. It will not be long before 
science enlightens us on all these points. Let us suppose that 
it does so in the sense we foresee: the mere reform of our 
food supply would have immeasurable reactions on our in- 
dustry, our trade, our agriculture, all of which it would 
considerably simplify. What about our other needs? The 
demands of the procreative senses are imperious, but they 
would be quickly settled, if we hearkened to nature alone. The 
trouble is that around a violent but paltry sensation, taken as 
an original theme, humanity has performed an endlessly in- 
creasing number of variations: so many, in fact, that almost any 
object struck on some particular point now gives out a sound 
which rings like that haunting music. Thus the senses are con- 
stantly being roused by the imagination. Sex- appeal is the 
keynote of our whole civilization. Here again science has some- 
thing to say, and it will say it one day so clearly that all must 
listen: there will no longer be pleasure in so much love of 
pleasure. Woman will hasten the coming of this time according 
as she real ly and sincerely strives to become man 's equal , instead 
of remaining the instrument she still is, waiting to vibrate 
under the musician's bow. Let the transformation take place: 
our life will be both more purposeful and more simple. What 
woman demands in the way of luxuries in order to please 
man, and, at the rebound, to please herself, will become to a 
great extent unnecessary. There will be less waste, and less 
enviousness. Luxury, pleasure and comfort are indeed closely 
akin, though the connexion between them is not what it is 
generally supposed to be. It is our way to arrange them in a 
certain gradation, we are supposed to move up the scale from 
comfort to luxury: when we have made sure of our comfort 
we want to cap it with pleasures, then comes love of luxury 
on top of all. But this is a purely intellectualist psychology, 
which imagines that our feelings are the exact counterpart of 
their objects. Because luxuries cost more than mere conveni- 
ences, and pleasure more than comfort, they are supposed 
to be keeping pace with goodness knows what correspond- 
ing desire. The truth is that it is generally for the sake 


of our luxuries that we want our comforts, because the com- 
forts we lack look to us like luxuries, and because we want to 
imitate and equal those people who can afford them. In the 
beginning was vanity. How many delicacies are sought after 
solely because they are expensive! For years civilized people 
spent a great part of their efforts abroad in procuring spices. 
It is amazing to think that this was the supreme object of 
navigation, so perilous in those days; that for this thousands 
of men risked their lives; that the courage, the energy and 
the spirit of adventure, of which the discovery of America 
was a mere incident, were mainly employed in the search for 
ginger, cloves, pepper and cinnamon. Who troubles about 
these flavourings which so long tasted delicious, now that they 
can be had for a few pence from the grocer round the corner? 
Such facts as these are sad reading for the moralist. But 
reflect a moment, they contain cause for hope as well. The 
continual craving for creature comforts, the pursuit of 
pleasure, the unbridled love of luxury, all these things which 
fill us with so much anxiety for the future of humanity, be- 
cause it seems to find in them solid satisfactions, all this 
will appear as a balloon which man has madly inflated, and 
which will deflate just as suddenly. We know that one frenzy 
brings on the counter- frenzy. More particularly, the com- 
parison of present-day facts with those of the past is a warning 
to us to regard as transient tastes which appear to be per- 
manent. Since to-day the supreme ambition for so many 
men is to have a car, let us recognize the incomparable 
services rendered by motor-cars, admire the mechanical 
marvel they are, hope that they will multiply and spread 
wherever they are needed, but let us say to ourselves that a 
. short time hence they may not be so greatly in demand just 
as an amenity or "for swank*', though the chances are that 
they may not be quite so neglected, and we hope not, as 
cloves and cinnamon are to-day. 

Here we come to the essential point of our discussion. We 
have just cited an example of the craving for luxuries arising 
from a mechanical invention. Many are of the opinion that 
it is mechanical invention in general which has developed the 


taste for luxuries, and indeed for mere comfort. Nay, if it is 
generally admitted that our material needs will go on in- 
definitely growing more numerous and more imperious, this 
is because there seems to be no reason why humanity should 
abandon the path of mechanical invention, once it has started 
on it. Let us add that, the more science advances, the more 
inventions are suggested by its discoveries; in many cases 
from theory to application is but a step; and since science 
cannot stop, it really does look indeed as though there could 
be no end to the satisfying of our old needs and the creation 
of new ones. But we must first ascertain whether the spirit 
of invention necessarily creates artificial needs, or whether 
in this case it is not the artificial need which has guided the 
spirit of invention. 

The second hypothesis is by far the more probable. It is 
confirmed by recent research on the origin of mechanization. 1 
The fact has been recalled that man has always invented 
machines, that antiquity has remarkable ones to show, that 
many a clever mechanical device was thought of long before 
the development of modern science, and, at a later stage, inde- 
pendently of it: even to-day a mere workman, without scien- 
tific culture, will hit on improvements which have never 
occurred to skilled engineers. Mechanical invention is a 
natural gift. Doubtless its effects were limited so long as it 
was confined to utilizing actual, and as it were visible, forces: 
muscular effort, wind or water power. The machine only 
developed its full efficiency from the day when it became 
possible to place at its service, by a simple process of releasing, 
the potential energies stored up for millions of years, bor- 
rowed from the sun, deposited in coal, oil, etc. But that was 
the day when the steam-engine was invented, and we know 
that this invention was not the outcome of theoretical con- 
siderations. Let us hasten to add that the progress made, 
slow enough at first, assumed giant proportions as soon as 
science took a hand. It is none the less true that the spirit of 
mechanical invention, which runs between narrow banks so 

1 We again refer the reader to Gina Lombroso's fine work. Cf. also 
Mantoux, La Revolution industrielle an dix-huitieme siccle. 


long as it is left to itself, but expands indefinitely after its 
conjunction with science, yet remains distinct from it, and 
could, if need be, do without it. Similarly we have the Rhone 
entering the Lake 'of Geneva, apparently mingling with its 
waters, but showing, when it leaves it again, that it has pre- 
served its independence. 

There has not been then, as some people are inclined to 
believe, a demand on the part of science, imposing on men, 
by the mere fact of its development, increasingly artificial 
needs. If that were so, humanity would be doomed to a grow- 
ing materiality, for the progress of science will never cease. 
But the truth is that science has given what was asked of it, 
and has not in this case taken the initiative; it is the spirit of 
invention which has not always operated in the best interests 
of humanity. It has created a mass of new needs; it has not 
taken the trouble to ensure for the majority of men, for all 
if that were possible, the satisfaction of old needs. To put it 
more clearly: though not neglecting the necessary, it has 
thought too much about the superfluous. It may be said that 
these two terms are hard to define, and that what are luxuries 
to some people are necessities to others. True, and it would 
be easy enough here to lose one's way amid subtle and fine 
distinctions. But there are cases where subtlety should be 
cast aside and a broad view taken. Millions of men never get 
enough to eat. There are some who starve to death. If the 
land produced much more, there would be far fewer chances 
of not getting enough to eat, 1 or of starving to death. Over- 
production here is but a deceptio visus. If mechanization is in 
any way to blame, it is for not having sufficiently devoted 
itself to helping man in his agricultural labour. It will be said 
that agricultural implements exist and are now widely used. 
I grant it, but all that mechanization has done here to lighten 
man's burden, all that science has done on its side to increase 

1 There are doubtless periods of "over-production" extending to 
agricultural products and which may even start from these. But they are 
obviously not due to the fact that there is too much food for the con- 
sumption of mankind. The fact is simply that, production in general not 
being properly organized, there is no market for exchange. 


the yield of the soil, amounts to comparatively little. We 
feel strongly that agriculture, which nourishes man, should 
dominate all else, in any case be the first concern of industry 
itself. Generally speaking, industry has not troubled enough 
about the greater or lesser importance of needs to be satisfied. 
It simply complied with public taste, and manufactured with 
no other thought than that of selling. Here as elsewhere, we 
should like to see a central, organizing intelligence, which 
would co-ordinate industry and agriculture and allot to the 
machine its proper place, I mean the place where it can best 
serve humanity. Thus, when the case against mechanization 
is stated, the main grievance is often left out. The charge is 
first that it converts the workman into a mere machine, and 
then that it leads to a uniformity of production which shocks 
the aesthetic sense. But if the machine procures for the work- 
man more free time, and if the workman uses this increase 
of leisure for something else than the so-called pleasures 
which an ill-directed industry has put within the reach of all, 
he will develop his intelligence as he chooses, instead of 
remaining content with the development which would have 
been imposed upon him, and necessarily maintained within 
very narrow limits, by a return (impossible in fact) to tools, 
were machines abolished. As regards uniformity of products, 
the disadvantage would be negligible, if the economy of time 
and labour thus realized by the mass of the nation permitted 
the furtherance of intellectual culture and the development 
of true originality. An author, writing about the Americans, 
criticizes them for all wearing the same hat. But the head 
should come before the hat. Allow me to furnish the interior 
of my head as I please, and I shall put up with a hat like every- 
body else's. Such is not our grievance against mechanization. 
Without disputing the services it has rendered to man by 
greatly developing the means of satisfying real needs, we 
reproach it with having too strongly encouraged artificial 
ones, with having fostered luxury, with having favoured the 
towns to the detriment of the countryside, lastly with having 
widened the gap and revolutionized the relations between 
employer and employed, between capital and labour. These 


effects, indeed, can all be corrected, and then the machine 
would be nothing but a great benefactor. But then, humanity 
must set about simplifying its existence with as much frenzy 
as it devoted to complicating it. The initiative can come from 
humanity alone, for it is humanity and not the alleged force 
of circumstances, still less a fatality inherent to the machine, 
which has started the spirit of invention along a certain track. 
But did humanity wholly intend this? Was the impulsion 
it gave at the beginning exactly in the same direction that 
industrialism has actually taken? What is at the outset only 
an imperceptible deviation becomes in the end a consider- 
able divergence, if the road has been straight and the journey 
long. Now, there is no doubt that the earliest features of what 
was destined later to become mechanization were sketched 
out at the same time as the first yearnings after democracy. 
The connexion between the two tendencies becomes plainly 
visible in the eighteenth century. It is a striking feature of 
the "Encyclopaedists". Should we not, then, suppose that it 
was a breath of democracy which urged the spirit of inven- 
tion onward, that spirit as old as humanity, but insufficiently 
active so long as it was not given the necessary scope? There 
was surely no thought then of luxuries for all, or even of 
comforts for all. But there might have been the desire of an 
assured material existence, of dignity in security for all. Was 
this a conscious wish? We do not believe in the unconscious 
in history: the great undercurrents of thought of which so 
much has been written are due to the fact that masses of men 
have been carried along by one or several individuals. These 
individuals knew what they were doing, but did not foresee 
all the consequences. We, who know what followed, cannot 
help transferring back the image of it to the beginning: the 
present, reflected back into the past and perceived inside it 
as though in a mirror, is then what we call the unconscious 
of the past. The retroactivity of the present is at the origin 
of many philosophical delusions. We shall be careful, then, 
not to attribute to the fifteenth, sixteenth and eighteenth 
centuries (and still less the seventeenth, which is so different 
and has been considered as a sublime parenthesis) a concern 


for democratic ideas comparable to our own. Neither shall 
we attribute to them the vision of the power which lay hidden 
in the spirit of invention. It is none the less true that the 
Reformation, the Renaissance and the first symptoms or pre- 
cursory signs of the great inventive impetus date from the 
same period. It is not impossible that there were here three 
reactions, interrelated, against the form taken until then by 
the Christian ideal. This ideal subsisted just the same, but it 
showed like a heavenly body that had up to then always 
turned the same face towards man: people now began to 
catch a glimpse of the other side, though they did not always 
realize that it was the same body. That mysticism evokes 
asceticism there is no doubt. Both the one and the other will 
ever be peculiar to the few. But that true, complete, active 
mysticism aspires to radiate, by virtue of the charity which is 
its essence, is none the less certain. How could it spread, even 
diluted and enfeebled as it must necessarily be, in a humanity 
obsessed by the fear of hunger? Man will only rise above 
earthly things if a powerful equipment supplies him with the 
requisite fulcrum. He must use matter as a support if he 
wants to get away from matter. In other words, the mystical 
summons up the mechanical. This has not been sufficiently 
realized, because machinery, through a mistake at the points, 
has been switched off on to a track at the end of which lies 
exaggerated comfort and luxury for the few, rather than 
liberation for all. We are struck by the accidental result, we 
do not see mechanization as it should be, as what it is in 
essence. Let us go further still. If our organs are natural 
instruments, our instruments must then be artificial organs. 
The workman's tool is the continuation of his arm, the tool- 
equipment of humanity is therefore a continuation of its 
body. Nature, in endowing us with an essentially tool-making 
intelligence, prepared for us in this way a certain expansion. 
But machines which run on oil or coal or "white coal", and 
which convert into motion a potential energy stored up for 
millions of years, have actually imparted to our organism an 
extension so vast, have endowed it with a power so mighty, 
so out of proportion to the size and strength of that organism, 


that surely none of all this was foreseen in this structural plan 
of our species: here was a unique stroke of luck, the greatest 
material success of man on the planet. A spiritual impulsion 
had been given, perhaps, at the beginning: the extension took 
place automatically, helped as it were by a chance blow of the 
pick-axe which struck against a miraculous treasure under- 
ground. 1 Now, in this body, distended out of all proportion, 
the soul remains what it was, too small to fill it, too weak to 
guide it. Hence the gap between the two. Hence the tremend- 
ous social, political and international problems which are just 
so many definitions of this gap, and which provoke so many 
chaotic and ineffectual efforts to fill it. What we need are new 
reserves of potential energy moral energy this time. So 
let us not merely say, as we did above, that the mystical 
summons up the mechanical. We must add that the body, 
now larger, calls for a bigger soul, and that mechanism should 
mean mysticism. The origins of the process of mechanization 
are indeed more mystical than we might imagine. Machinery 
will find its true vocation again, it will render services in pro- 
portion to its power, only if mankind, which it has bowed 
still lower to the earth, can succeed, through it, in standing 
erect and looking heavenwards. 

In a long series of writings, which for depth and forceful- 
ness are beyond praise, M. Ernest Seilliere shows how national 
ambitions claim for themselves divine missions: "imperial- 
ism" naturally becomes "mysticism". If we give to this latter 
word the sense M. Ernest Seilliere 2 attributes to it, and which 
his many books have made abundantly clear, the fact is 'un- 
deniable; by noting it, by linking it up with its causes and 
following it in its effects, the author makes an invaluable 
contribution to the philosophy of history. But he himself 
would probably be of the opinion that mysticism taken in 
this sense, and indeed understood in this way by "imperial- 
ism" such as he exhibits it, is but a counterfeit of true 

1 We are speaking figuratively, of course. Coal was known long before 
the steam-engine turned it into a treasure. 

2 A meaning only part of which we deal with here, as also in the case 
of the word "imperialism". 


mysticism, the mysticism of "dynamic religion" which we 
studied in the last chapter. We believe the counterfeiting to 
have taken place in the following way. It was a borrowing 
from the "static religion" of the ancients, stripped of its old 
tags and left in its static form with the new label supplied by 
dynamic religion. There was indeed nothing fraudulent in 
this imitation; it was almost unintentional. For we must 
remember that "static religion" is natural to man, and that 
nature does not alter. The innate beliefs of our ancestors sub- 
sist in the depths of our inner selves; they reappear as soon 
as they are no longer inhibited by opposing forces. Now, one 
of the essential characteristics of ancient religions was the idea 
of a link between the human groups and the deities attached 
to them. The gods of the city fought with and for the city. 
This belief is incompatible with true mysticism, I ftiean with 
the feeling which certain souls have that they are the instru- 
ments of God who loves all men with an equal love, and who 
bids them to love each other. But, rising from the darkest 
depths of the soul to the surface of consciousness, and meeting 
there with the image of true mysticism as the modern mystics 
have revealed it to the world, it instinctively decks itself out 
in this garb; it endows the God of the modern mystic with the 
nationalism of the ancient gods. It is in this sense that imper- 
ialism becomes mysticism. So that if we keep to true mysti- 
cism, we shall judge it incompatible with imperialism. At the 
most it will be admitted, as we have just put it, that mysticism 
cannot be disseminated without encouraging a very special 
"Will to power". This will be a sovereignty, not over men, but 
over things, precisely in order that man shall no longer have 
so much sovereignty over man. 

Let a mystic genius but appear, he will draw after him a 
humanity already vastly grown in body, and whose soul he 
has transfigured. He will yearn to make of it a new species, 
or rather deliver it from the necessity of being a species; for 
every species means a collective halt, and complete existence 
is mobility in individuality. The great breath of life which 
swept our planet had carried organization as far along as 
nature, alike docile and recalcitrant, permitted. Nature let 


us repeat it is the name we give to the totality of com- 
pliances and resistances which life encounters in raw matter 
a totality which we treat, just as the biologist does, as 
though intentions could be attributed to it. A body compact 
of creative intelligence, and, round about that intelligence, a 
fringe of intuition, was the most complete thing nature had 
found it possible to produce. Such was the human body. 
There the evolution of life stopped. But now intelligence, 
raising the construction of instruments to a degree of com- 
plexity and perfection which nature (so incapable of mechani- 
cal construction) had not even foreseen, pouring into these 
machines reserves of energy which nature (so heedless of 
economy) had never even thought of, has endowed us with 
powers beside which those of our body barely count: they 
will be altogether limitless when science is able to liberate 
the force which is enclosed, or rather condensed, in the slightest 
particle of ponderable matter. The material barrier then has 
well nigh vanished. To-morrow the way will be clear, in the 
very direction of the breath which had carried life to the 
point where it had to stop. Let once the summons of the hero 
come, we shall not all follow it, but we shall all feel that we 
ought to, and we shall see the path before us, which will 
become a highway if we pass along it. At the same time, for 
each and every philosophy the mystery of supreme obligation 
will be a mystery no longer: a journey had been begun, it 
had had to be interrupted; by setting out once more we are 
merely willing again what we had willed at the start. It is 
always the stop which requires explanation, and not the 

But perhaps it will be just as well not to count too much 
on the coming of a great privileged soul. Failing that, some 
other influences might divert our attention from the baubles 
that amuse us, and the vain shadows for which we fight. 

What influence? We have seen how the talent of invention, 
assisted by science, had put unsuspected energies at man's 
disposal. We were alluding here to physico-chemical energies, 
and to a science that was concerned with matter. But what 
about things spiritual? Has spirit been scientifically inves- 


tigated as thoroughly as it might have been? Do we know to 
what results such investigation might lead? Science attended 
first to matter; for three whole centuries it had no other 
object; even to-day, when we leave the word unqualified, it 
is understood that we mean the science of matter. We have 
given the reasons for this on another occasion. We have indi- 
cated why the scientific study of matter preceded that of 
the spirit. The most pressing needs had to be taken first. 
Geometry existed already; it had been considerably advanced 
by the ancients; the thing was to extract from mathematics 
all it could give in explanation of the world in which we 
live. Nor was it desirable, indeed, to begin by the science of 
the spirit; it would not have attained, unaided, the precision, 
the rigour, the demand for proof, which have spread from 
geometry to physics, to chemistry, to biology, until such 
time as they might rebound on to the science of the spirit. 
And yet, on the other hand, it has certainly suffered to some 
extent from coming so late. For human intelligence has thus 
been left time to get scientifically supported, and thus invest 
with unquestionable authority, its habit of looking at things 
as if they all occupied so much space, of explaining every- 
thing in terms of matter. Suppose, then, that it now turns its 
attention to the soul? It will picture the life of the soul too 
as if it were spread out in space; it will extend to this new 
object the image it kept of the old: hence the errors of an 
atomistic psychology, which does not take into account the 
mutual overlapping of psychic states; hence the futile efforts 
of* a philosophy that claims to attain to the spirit without 
seeking it in real enduring time. Suppose, again, we take the 
relation of the body to the soul. The confusion is graver still. 
Not only has it started metaphysics on a false scent, it has 
diverted science from the observation of certain facts, or 
rather it has prevented certain sciences from being born, 
causing them to be excommunicated beforehand in the name 
of I know not what dogma. For it was agreed that the material 
accompaniment of mental activity was its equivalent: every 
reality being supposed to have its basis in space, nothing more 
is to be found in the mind, so they said, than what a super- 


human physiologist could read in the corresponding brain. 
Note that this thesis is a pure metaphysical hypothesis, an 
arbitrary interpretation of facts. But no less arbitrary is the 
metaphysics opposed to it, and according to which each 
mental state is supposed to make use of a cerebral state 
which merely serves as its instrument; for this metaphysics, 
too, mental activity is coextensive with cerebral activity and 
corresponds to it at every point in our present life. The second 
theory is indeed influenced by the first, having always lain 
under its spell. Now, we have attempted to prove, by remov- 
ing the preconceived ideas accepted on both sides, by adhere- 
ing as close as possible to the configuration of f acts that the 
function of the body is something quite different. The activity 
of the spirit has indeed a material concomitant, but one which 
only corresponds to part of it; the rest lies buried in the 
unconscious. The body is indeed for us a means of action, 
but it is also an obstacle to perception. Its rcMe is to perform 
the appropriate gesture on any and every occasion; for this 
very reason it must keep consciousness clear both of such 
memories as would not throw any light on the present situa- 
tion, together with the perception of objects over which we 
have no control. 1 It is, as you like to take it, a filter or a 
screen. It maintains in a virtual state anything likely to 
hamper the action by becoming actual. It helps us to see 
straight in front of us in the interests of what we have to 
do; and, on the other hand, it prevents us from looking to 
right and left for the mere sake of looking. It plucks for us a 
real psychical life out of the immense field of dreams. v ln 
a word, our brain is intended neither to create our mental 
images nor to treasure them up; it merely limits them, so as 
to make them effective. It is the organ of attention to life. 
But this means that there must have been provided, either 
in the body or in the consciousness limited by the body, 
some contrivance expressly designed to screen from man's 
perception objects which by their nature are beyond the 

1 We have shown above how a sense such as that of sight carries further, 
because its instrument makes this extension inevitable (see p. 222. Cf. 
Matter e et memoir e t the whole of chap. i.). 


reach of man's action. If these mechanisms get out of order, 
the door which they kept shut opens a little way: there enters 
in something of a "without" which may be a "beyond". It is 
with these abnormal perceptions that "psychical research" is 
concerned. To a certain extent the opposition it encounters 
is intelligible. It is a science that rests on human evidence, 
and human evidence can always be disputed. The typical 
scientist is in our eyes the physicist; his attitude of fully 
justified confidence towards matter, which is obviously not 
out to deceive him, has become for us characteristic of all 
science. We are reluctant to go on treating as scientific a form 
of investigation which requires of the investigators that they 
be ever on the look out for trickery. Their distrust makes us 
uneasy, their trust still more so: we know how soon one is apt 
to relax one's guard; that it is so perilously easy to glide from 
curiosity to credulity. Consequently, certain reluctances, as 
we said just now, are readily explained. But the flat denial 
which some true scientists oppose to "psychical research" 
would never be understood, were it not that, above all, they 
regard the facts reported as "improbable"; "impossible" 
they would say, if they did not know that there exists no 
conceivable means of establishing the impossibility of a fact; 
they are none the less convinced, in the main, of that impos- 
sibility. And they are convinced of it because they believe 
to be undeniable, definitely established, a certain relation 
between the organism and consciousness, between body and 
spirit. Now we have just seen that this relation is purely 
hypothetical, that it is not proved by science, but postulated 
by a certain metaphysics. The facts suggest a very different 
hypothesis; and if this is admitted, the phenomena recorded 
by "psychical research", or at least some of them, become so 
likely that we should rather be surprised at the time they have 
had to wait before they were studied. We shall not here go 
over again a matter we have discussed elsewhere. Let us 
merely say, to take what seems to us the most strongly 
established fact, that if, for example, the reality of "telepathic 
phenomena" is called in doubt after the mutual corroboration 
of thousands of statements which have been collected on the 


subject, it is human evidence in general that must, in the eyes 
of science, be declared to be null and void: what, then, is to 
become of history? The truth is that one must make a selection 
among the results which "psychical research" puts before 
us; that science itself by no means considers them all of equal 
value; it distinguishes between what seems to it as certain 
and what is simply probable or, at most, possible. But, even 
if one retains only a portion of what it would fain look upon 
as certain, enough remains for us to divine the immensity of 
the terra incognita that it has just begun to explore. Suppose 
that a gleam from this unknown world reaches us, visible to 
our bodily eyes. What a transformation for humapity, gen- 
erally accustomed, whatever it may say, to accept as existing 
only what it can see and touch! The information which would 
then reach us would perhaps concern only the inferior 
portion of the souls, the lowest degree of spirituality. But 
this would be sufficient to turn into a live, acting reality a 
belief in the life beyond, which is apparently met with in 
most men, but which for the most part remains verbal, 
abstract, ineffectual. To know to what extent it does count, 
it suffices to see how we plunge into pleasure: we should not 
cling to it so desperately, did we not see in it so much ground 
gained over nothingness, a means whereby we can snap our 
fingers at death. In truth, if we were sure, absolutely sure, of 
survival, we could not think of anything else. Our pleasures 
would still remain, but drab and jejune, because their inten- 
sity was merely the attention that we centred upon them. 
They would pale like our electric lamps before the mornihg 
sun. Pleasure would be eclipsed by joy. 

Joy indeed would be that simplicity of life diffused through- 
out the world by an ever-spreading mystic intuition; joy, too, 
that which would automatically follow a vision of the life 
beyond attained through the furtherance of scientific experi- 
ment. Failing so thoroughgoing a spiritual reform, we must 
be content with shifts and submit to more and more numer- 
ous and vexatious regulations, intended to provide a means of 
circumventing each successive obstacle that our nature sets 
up against our civilization. But, whether we go bail for small 

iv JOY 275 

measures or great, a decision is imperative. Mankind lies 
groaning, half-crushed beneath the weight of its own progress. 
Men do not sufficiently realize that their future is in their 
own hands. Theirs is the task of determining first of all 
whether they want to go on living or not. Theirs the responsi- 
bility, then, for deciding if they want merely to live, or intend 
to make just the extra effort required for fulfilling, even on 
their refractory planet, the essential function of the universe, 
which is a machine for the making of gods. 


Altruism, 25 

Ant, 15, 18, 19, 66, 76, 229 
Appeal, 24 
Automatism, 178, 179 

Biology, 82, 135, 213, 219, 253 
Buddhism, 23, 190 ff. 

Chance, 119 fT. 
Christianity: 23 

bridge from closed to open 

society, 61 

creator of religious emotion, 30 
message of universal brother- 
hood, 62 
morality of, 46 
relation to Greek philosophy, 

City (the): 

attachment to, 239 

of God, 80 

limit of obligations of social life, 

24, 44, 230 
morality of, 45 
Collective (mind), 85, 86 
Common sense, 86, 87 
Custom, 101, 102, 233 

Democracy, 242, 244, 266 
Dichotomy, law of, 256, 259 
Dimorphism, 240, 242 

Ego, 6, 7, 52 

Emotion, 28, 29, 31, 33, 34, 35, 37, 

78, 128 
Equality, 54, 63, 64, 243 

Family, 21, 22, 200 
Foreigners, 246 
Frenzy, 256, 259 

God, 22, 183, 188, 197, 198, 199, 

206, 208, 216, 224 
Good (the), 70, 71, 208 

Habits, 2, 5, 9, 13, 17 
Humanity, 21, 22, 24, 25, 27, 44, 

200, 201, 230 
Hymenopterae, 17, 87, 96 

Ideas (theory of), 5, 47, 48, 49, 

Impetus: of life (vital), 44, 91, 92, 

93, 95, 108, 115, 213, 236 
of the artist, 60 
connexion with mysticism, 181, 

equivalent to dynamic morality, 


insufficient, 50 
of love, 79, 202 
obligation deriving from, 42 
Impulse, vital, 115, 116 
Instinct, 16, 17, 18, 42, 77, 78, 91, 

97, 100, 137, 138 

Intelligence, 14, 17, 33, 34, 42, 43, 
44, 50, 5i, 75, 82, 96, 97, ioo, 
116, 137, 138, 174, 176, 214 
Intellectualism, 29, 71, 189, 231, 

Intuition, 94, 180, 214, 274 

Judaism, 205 

Justice, 54, 55, 56, 58, 59, 63, 65 

KANT, u, 69, 243 

Language, 18, 57 
Leadership, 241 
League of Nations, 248 
Liberation, 39 

Life, 44, 77, 82, 94, 97, 178, 180, 
220, 274 



Liberty, 64, 243 

Love, 27, 30, 31, 81, 202, 218 

Magic, 139, 141, 142, 143, 145 

Mana, 112, 139, 148 

Mechanics, 201, 262, 263, 265, 267, 

Morality: of the open society, 21, 

23, 24, 25, 45 
of the closed society, 6, 18 
relation to philosophy, 232 
relation to reason, 72 
relation to religion, 102 
two kinds of, 25, 37, 38, 42, 233 
twofold origin of, 65, 74 
Movement, 45, 233 
Mysteries, 185 

Mysticism, 30, 68, 80, 81, 181, 182, 
188, 194, 202, 203, 210, 211, 
214, 251, 268, 269 
Myth-making, faculty, function of, 
89, 99, 103, no, 113, 138, 
147, 165, 166, 167, 168, 179, 
228, 231 
Mythology, 88, 103 

Nature, 4, 28, 30, 42, 43, 56, 234, 

Necessity, 3, 5, 19 

Obedience, 10 

Obligation: binding character of, 6, 

6 7 

composite, 10, 65 
definition of, 1 1 
deriving from habits, 12 
organic tendencies, 43 
relation to aspiration, 51, 232 
relation to instinct, 18 
relation to higher morality, 22 
relation to reason, 72 
pressure of, 13, 15, 74, 232 
sense of necessity, 519 
social, 214 

Organism, i, 3, 5, 18, 19, 26, 66, 

Patriotism, 239 

PLOTINUS, 187, 188 
Population, 250, 251 
Pressure, 22, 24, 42, 51, 75 
Primitive: (man) (society), 19, 66, 

84, 106, 113, 114, 119 ff., 126, 


Psychology, 32, 33, 86, 88 
Psychical Research, 99, 273, 274 

Reason, 14, 15, 22, 47, 54, 6 9 

Religion: connexion with super- 
stition, 83 

dual functions of, 115 
dynamic, 151, 158, 171, 175 
instrument of nature, 101, 102 
link with open society, 5 
mixed, 183 

relation to intellect, 107 
relation to magic, 147 
relation to morality, 36, 80 
social role of, 4, 168 
static, 151, 158, 175 

Resistance, u, 77 

ROUSSEAU, 29, 30, 243 

Science, 70, 142, 144, 145, 257, 

259, 270 
Self-respect, 53 
Sensibility, 32, 33 
Sociability, 96, 232 
Society: closed, 20, 21, 26, 43, 229, 


mode of thinking, 85 
open, 20, 44, 231 ^ 

pressure deriving from habits, i 
relation to individual, 9, 14 

SOCRATES, 47, 48, 49, 259 

Soul, 27, 40, 45, 49, 227, 271 

Spirit, 270 

Stoics, 46, 47, 62 

Superstition, 83 

Survival (after death), no, 112 

War, 44, 238, 245, 246, 247, 248 
Yoga, 191 

Ftinted in (hftit Hriiniu t\y U. & U. CI.AUIC, LIMITKO,